JOE BIDDLE: Vandy walk-ons help take down Auburn

Vanderbilt loses against ASU, eliminated from NCAA Tournament (Image 1)

If any SEC basketball team has done less with more talent, it's Tennessee. The Vols found a way to lose a lead in the second half and lose in overtime to Texas A&M.

If any SEC basketball team has done more with less bodies, it's Vanderbilt.

In what is arguably veteran coach Kevin Stallings' finest coaching season, the Commodores turned to two walk-on players to come from 16 points down in the first half to beat Auburn, 67-59 at Auburn Arena.

Stallings has played with only seven scholarship players much of the season. So when he squirmed on the bench Saturday watching his starters stink it up, Stallings called on sophomore walk-ons Carter Josephs and Nathan Watkins.

Auburn was rebounding everything in sight, up 17-4 on the boards. Vanderbilt had virtually nothing going for it.

That's when Stallings went to Josephs and Watkins, neither of whom came out of high school with SEC credentials. When you walk on to a program whose school's tuition is more than $60,000, you are not there to become the next LeBron James.

Stallings said he was sick and tired of watching the starters going through the motions. Enter Josephs and Watkins, with the Commodores 16 points down.

Josephs and Watkins responded, along with freshman Luke Kornet. In the final eight minutes of the first half, Josephs piled up five assists, a rebound and a steal. He finished with nine assists as Stallings started the walk-ons in the second half.

Watkins was fearless in the game.

“This was the first real game I had played in,'' Watkins said. “I wasn't nervous. I play with Carter and Luke every day in practice and we go against the starters. It didn't seem that much different in the game.''

Watkins contributed seven points with a trey, a bucket and 2-2 from the free throw line.

The walk-on tandem gave Stallings and the Commodores the spark they were looking and yes, hoping for. Kornet came off the bench to add 10 points to help Vanderbilt beat Auburn for the ninth straight game.

The win boosted Vanderbilt's record to 15-11 and they are 7-7 in SEC play. Considering the roster they have had to play with, it's remarkable they have gotten to this point no matter how “down'' the league is.

So you must be wondering just who these two walk-ons are. Unless you are kin to them, you probably don't know.

Josephs is a 6-foot guard who played at Tom C. Clark High School in San Antonio. He averaged only 7.8 points, 3.7 rebounds as a senior. He was the team's captain and most valuable defensive player.  College recruiters were not knocking down his doors.

Josephs has played in 15 games this season, all of them off the bench. He has averaged 5.2 minutes a game, 0.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists and two steals. Alas, before Saturday, his points per game average equaled Mr. Blutarsky's grade point average in Animal House — Zero point zero.

Watkins is a 6-5 guard who played locally at Ensworth High School, where his team won state championships his final two seasons. He attempted one shot last season, that coming against Mississippi State. It missed.

Watkins has fared better in five games played this season, averaging 4.1 minutes with a 1.4 points per game average.

You scan their bios and perhaps you see why Stallings inserted them into the game when all appeared lost.

Watkins' advice to youngsters? “Never be satisfied with where you're at.''

Joseph's advice to the same age group? “Work harder than everyone else.''

If only for one game, they followed their own advice. It helped Vanderbilt pull out a game it could not have done without them.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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