NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Vanderbilt proved it also could win close games.
Russell Lakey drilled a 3-pointer with just over a minute remaining as the 21st-ranked Commodores remained unbeaten with a 59-53 victory over Auburn in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Looking for the best start in school history, Vanderbilt (12-0, 1-0 SEC East) squandered a 14-point halftime lead before recovering.
Brandon Robinson scored seven of his nine points in an 11-0 surge that gave the Tigers a 53-48 advantage with 5:32 remaining. But Auburn went scoreless the rest of the way.
Mario Moore made a layup and Matt Freije converted two free throws, pulling the Commodores within one with 1:27 to go. After a turnover, Lakey provided the lead with his 3-pointer with 70 seconds to play.
"When we were in the huddle coach told us that one of us was going to make a big shot," Lakey said. "I just knew that if I had my chance I needed to step up. So I just set my feet and let it go. And I tell you it was the best shot I took in the second half."
"He's a big-shot maker," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "And on top of that, the guy has a sophomore starting in front of him and he has never complained, never questioned. He's just been a good senior and a good leader. He deserves to make shots like that, and he did."
Freije finished with 15 points and Corey Smith added 10 for Vanderbilt, which had won its first 11 games by an average of 22.6 points.
"I didn't think it (not having a close game) would hurt us, and it didn't," Stallings said. "They got a 53-48 lead, and then out guys dug in. They guarded and played with the same energy I see in practice. Our guys deserve a lot of credit."
Nathan Watson netted 13 points and Marco Killingsworth 12 for the Tigers (9-3, 0-1 West), who hurt themselves at the free-throw line by going just 6-of-14.
"It was a tough loss, but I was proud of my guys," Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said. "We got down by like 17, then stuck out our chests and went on our own run. In the end, I thought we simply didn't take advantage of some looks while Vanderbilt did."
Smith scored 10 points in the first half when the Commodores shot 58 percent (14-of-24) en route to building a 34-20 advantage.