NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — To the Kentucky Wildcats, there's no doubt that Nerlens Noel's jumper left his hand before the shot clock buzzer sounded, and they couldn't be happier.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings disagrees.
That bucket allowed Kentucky to escape with a 60-58 win over Vanderbilt on Thursday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams after blowing a 16-point lead.
"We're lucky to win the game," Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
Kyle Wiltjer's jumper with 1:57 left put Kentucky ahead to stay, but the Wildcats (10-4) also seemed to get a bit of help from officials by counting Noel's jumper with 17.3 seconds left that went in after the shot clock buzzer went off. Stallings took a timeout to plead his case, even patting his head as he talked to officials to signal shot clock violation.
But officials didn't review the play.
"They said it was not reviewable," Stallings said. "That's what they told me. It's not reviewable. The officials got together and said it's not reviewable. I don't really want to spend this press conference talking about a call that wasn't made. Obviously by my reaction, you could tell what I thought."
Kedren Johnson said he was right there and felt the ball still was in Noel's hands when the buzzer went off. Johnson made a 3 with 7.6 seconds left to pull Vandy within 60-58, and Kyle Fuller stole the inbound pass with 6.7 seconds to go giving the Commodores a last chance. Johnson's 3 hit the back rim just before the buzzer as the rally fell short for Vanderbilt (6-7).
"I knew it was a little bit too much to the right after I let it go," Johnson said. "Sometimes those still have a chance. Unfortunately, that one didn't go in for me."
Ryan Harrow led Kentucky with 16 points, Noel had 13 and Archie Goodwin 12.
"Even though it was an ugly win, at least we came out with the win," Harrow said.
Johnson finished with a game-high 18 points, and Rod Odom added 12 as Vanderbilt outrebounded Kentucky 42-37.
This was a rematch of the SEC tournament championship game that Vanderbilt won last March for its first such title in 61 years. Wiltjer is one of only five players combined on the rosters left from that game, and all the youth is why neither team was ranked in this game for the first time since Feb. 17, 2009.
Calipari started his latest crop of freshmen a second straight game, and the Wildcats looked good in taking the lead from the opening bucket and leading 35-24 at halftime. Vanderbilt had won six of the previous nine games against Kentucky in Memorial Gym, and the Commodores finally stymied Kentucky by going to a zone defense.
"It's exactly the stuff we've been talking about, but some of the stuff didn't carry over," Calipari said. "They went zone, we got tentative. We'd been playing great against zone, now all of a sudden guys don't want to take shots. My shooter just catches it and passes it so quick. He played hot potato like the ball was hot. We want you to shoot. That's why we're throwing it to you."
The Wildcats missed 12 straight shots from the floor, going without a bucket between 13:48 and 4:58 when Harrow finally hit a 3. Vanderbilt took advantage, trailing 47-31 with 13:48 left when Sheldon Jeter hit a jumper to start an 18-0 run.
Shelby Moats hit a 3, and Dai-Jon Parker added a 3 to get the Commodores rolling. Kentucky went cold too, missing 12 straight shots from the floor. Johnson's driving layup tied it up at 47, and Jeter's dunk capped the run and gave Vanderbilt its first lead of the game at 49-47 with 6:11 left.
The teams swapped the lead twice with three ties down the stretch. Johnson's bucket for Vandy tied it for the last time at 54, then Wiltjer's long jumper put Kentucky ahead to stay to set up the frantic ending.
"Coach has been saying the whole year that SEC's not a joke, it doesn't matter who you're playing, every night is going to be just like that," Kentucky freshman Willie Cauley-Stein said. "We was just up so much as a freshman I'm thinking, 'Whoa, like this is not what coach was saying.' And then just like that it turns around, and we're down by one. And all of a sudden, I'm like, 'Dang. We got to dig down and try to pull this out.'"
Kentucky won its SEC opener for the 23rd time in 26 seasons, improving to 62-18 all-time.
All the practice since Kentucky's easy 90-38 win over Eastern Michigan sure paid off early. Harrow hit a 3-pointer within the first 90 seconds, and the Wildcats dominated Vanderbilt early.
Vanderbilt came in scoring 37.3 percent of its points off 3-pointers, and the Commodores missed their first 10. Their shooting woes extended all over the court as they also missed easy layups when they did get close enough to the basket to shoot. Kentucky disrupted them repeatedly, blocking six shots alone in the first half.
The Commodores didn't hit a 3 until 1:22 remained in the first half when Johnson hit from beyond the arc, and Odom added another just before halftime. Vanderbilt wound up hitting 8 of 30 from 3-point range.