NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Future opponents likely won't make the mistake of leaving Vanderbilt freshman John Jenkins open. Not after what he did to Georgia.
Jenkins scored 22 of his career-high 25 points in the second half, and Vanderbilt (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) held off Georgia 78-66 Friday night in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals. Jenkins hit 5 of 8 from 3-point range and scored 12 straight points during one stretch.
"If he's left open, he's unstoppable and if we can get him open, he's unstoppable," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "He's going to make open shots. There's just not very many days during the week you don't see him have a good shooting day. His jumper is fundamentally flawless, and he has a high level of belief in it. And so does his coach."
The Commodores (24-7) came in with only their third first-round bye since the SEC went to divisional play in 1992 as the East's No. 2 seed, and they managed to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2004 and just the second time in Stallings' 11 seasons.
A program that has only one SEC tournament title back in 1951 will play Mississippi State, the West's No. 1 seed and a 75-69 winner over Florida, on Saturday. It will be a quick turnaround with tip-off set about 15 hours after this game finished. Stallings said their motto has been "Any time, any place."
"So if they wanted to play that game in an hour, we would be ready to play and we would be willing to play," Stallings said.
The Commodores hadn't had even a minute to look ahead to Mississippi State or the SEC's top shot blocker -- Jarvis Varnado.
"He's got my shot a couple times," Jenkins said, "We'll get ready for him."
Jermaine Beal also had 16 points and A.J. Ogilvy had 10 points as Vanderbilt bounced back from blowing a 10-point lead in losing to South Carolina last weekend on Senior Day. The Commodores also outrebounded Georgia 43-32.
"If it keeps up, we might get to keep playing for a while," Stallings said of the rebounding performance.
Georgia (14-17) couldn't recreate the magic of 2008 with four wins in four days. Travis Leslie had a career-high 34 points, and Trey Thompkins had 13, all in the second half as Vanderbilt focused on trying to shut him down.
"I never felt like this team wanted this season to be over," first-year Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "Often times at the end of the year you sense guys who just want it to end. I just told them they've made an impact on Georgia basketball. They gained some momentum."
Vanderbilt had lost the last two times after a first-round bye in this tournament. Georgia looked ready to make it three after beating the Commodores in Athens 72-58 on Feb. 6 and losing on the final possession 96-94 in overtime a couple miles away from the Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 25.
"Everybody was thinking us and Georgia would be a nice matchup," Beal said of this game. "I'm just happy we came out and got the victory."
These teams looked ready to go to overtime for a second straight game in this series as they swapped the lead back and forth in the opening minutes. Beal's jumper put Vanderbilt ahead 10-9 with 15:16 left, and the Commodores never trailed again.
But Georgia was brimming with confidence -- if not energy -- after thumping Arkansas about 24 hours ago and just missing a chance to sweep the season series from Vanderbilt with that overtime loss.
They came back with a 12-1 spurt, and Leslie's fast-break layup tied it at 23 before Chris Barnes dunked to put Georgia back up 25-23. Steve Tchiengang answered with a layup, and Jeffery Taylor's jumper put the Commodores back up 27-25 that started a 12-2 finish to the first half for Vanderbilt and a 35-27 halftime lead.
Georgia whittled Vanderbilt's lead down to two three times in the second half, the last on Ebuka Anyaorah's free throw at 40-38 with 15:54 left. That was as close as the Bulldogs would get again as Brad Tinsley hit a long jumper 16 seconds later, and Lance Goulbourne's layup pushed it to 44-38.
That's when Vanderbilt started sinking 3s to make sure no overtime would be needed this time.
Goulbourne hit a 3, and Jenkins got going. The freshman hit consecutive 3s, added three free throws when fouled on a long shot and then added another 3 with 8:21 left to push the lead to 59-47. Vandy led 69-51 on a pair of Jenkins' free throws with 5:31 remaining.
Fox credited Jenkins with shooting very well. But he felt the difference was Vanderbilt being more physical.
"I don't know if that's the fact we played back-to-back and they came in fresh, but you have to credit them with making a lot of plays," Fox said.