ST. LOUIS -- Yante Maten was a lightly used freshman the last time Georgia reached the NCAA Tournament during the 2014-15 season.
The senior knows the odds are against the Bulldogs of returning to the tournament this season, but he wasn't about to let them go down without at least one last push at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Maten scored 25 points to lead 12th-seeded Georgia (17-14) to a 78-62 win over Vanderbilt in the opening round of the tournament on Wednesday night. The 6-foot-8 forward did so on 9-of-12 shooting, showing why he was named the Associated Press SEC player of the year -- and helping to set up a second-round matchup with No. 5 seed Missouri on Thursday in the process.
"He was the AP player of the year in our league for a reason, because he's really good down on the block and on the outside," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "He pretty much scored any way you can score the basketball."
Maten has scored in double figures in all but one game this season for Georgia, which led throughout against the Commodores (12-20). The SEC's leading scorer started his latest scoring outburst with a pair of 3-pointers in the opening minutes, and he also added a pair of blocks in 29 minutes of action.
It was a far cry from his 8-of-18 shooting performance in an 81-66 loss to Vanderbilt on Feb. 7.
Teshaun Hightower added a career-high 13 points off the bench for the Bulldogs, and Rayshaun Hammonds had 10 in the win. It was Maten, however, who set the tone from the outset and helped Georgia open the game on a 10-0 run.
"At the end of the day, I only go as far as my team goes," Maten said. "So, we're a collective unit. We're just trying to play our best basketball, and I was trying to make my reads, and so was my team. We came out with the win because of it."
The Bulldogs went on to lead by as many as 25 points in the first half before settling for a 43-22 halftime edge. They were never threatened after that in the second half while winning for only the second time in eight tournament games against Vanderbilt.
Riley LaChance scored 17 points to lead the 13th-seeded Commodores, who made 9 of 32 shots (28.1 percent) in the first half. Jeff Roberson added 16 points in the loss, and Saben Lee also finished in double figures with 12.
The early exit put an end to what's been a difficult season a year after Vanderbilt reached the NCAA Tournament in coach Bryce Drew's first season.
"We're obviously really excited about the future with the recruiting class we have coming in," Drew said. "I'm glad that our names are on the back of our jerseys, because next year our fans are going to have a whole group of different names they're going to be looking at and learning who they are."
Vanderbilt: The Commodores reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons, but they hit 6 of their first 24 shots (25 percent) on Wednesday and never led in the first-round exit. The loss ends a difficult season for Vanderbilt, which started the season 3-7 and will become the first Drew-coached team to miss the postseason in his seven seasons as a head coach -- five at Valparaiso and two with the Commodores. Drew has reached the NCAA Tournament three times along with two trips each to the NIT and CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Georgia: The Bulldogs had the look of an NCAA Tournament team after starting the season 9-2 following back-to-back wins over Georgia Tech and Temple. They struggled to a 7-12 record after that, however, and entered Wednesday 81st in the NCAA's RPI ratings -- meaning they still likely need to win the SEC tourney to have any hope of reaching Fox's third NCAA Tournament in nine seasons at Georgia.
Georgia advances to face Missouri on Thursday.
The Commodores season is finished.
More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25
Follow Kurt Voigt on Twitter at (at)Kurt-Voigt-AP