Vanderbilt fends off Blue Raider surge
Before the game even started one could feel the roar of the crowd, as each teams fans tried to out cheer each other as 14,316 fans filled Memorial Gym. The game featured the Vanderbilt Commodores who have won 9 of their last 10 games against a revamped Middle Tennessee State team who is rolling on a 12 game wining streak and 20 victories for the season. Once the game started it would be a back and forth battle that featured eight lead changes and 10 ties. In the end when the dust cleared, The Commodores would come out victorious.
Vandy opened up the scoring with a layup tip in by senior Jeffrey Taylor, who scored his first of 17 points for the game. The first significant lead of the game came on an MTSU 10-0 run, leading Vandy 12-7. The Dores’ would retake the lead with five minutes to go in the first half 35- 33 and take a 44-39 lead going into the break. Although Vandy took the lead they allowed MTSU to shoot 60.9% from the floor and 62.5% from three point range in the first period and 57.4% for the game.
In the second half the Blue Raiders got hot again, scoring nine straight points and take the lead 64-59 in the middle of the second half. MTSU simply would not go away; Vandy would not lead again until a pair of three pointers by John Jenkins gave them a 73-72 lead with 4.26 left in the game. Vanderbilt was finally able to put MTSU away after an 8-1 run that gave Vandy the 84-77 win. The Commodores offence was powers in large part by junior John Jenkins who led the team with 26 points and RS senior Festus Ezeli with season high 21 points. Vanderbilt’s keys to victory also included a relentless team effort on the floor and good free-throw shooting going 11-13 from the line.
In post game interviews, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said, “I thought there were two teams that played really hard and really physically going after one another.” Stallings added, “We did a great job at the foul line not only getting there, but making them. At the end of the game we made stops when we had to. I thought we guarded okay, but they just made some tough shots.” Some of those though shots were made by 2010 transfer LaRon Dendy who had a career high 22 points. Eziel said of Dendy, “He’s a good player. He’s very good. He takes it off the bounce and so it’s a little different than the other guys that I have to guard. Usually, I just have to be physical in the post so this was someone who I had to move my feet. It was tough guarding him.”
The back and forth battle and close physical nature was reminiscent of a NCAA tournament game. In regards to how the game was played Jenkins said
“They’re pretty physical and they were trying to get under our skin a lot. And they bumped us off cuts a little bit, but we just had to get stronger as the game went on.” Taylor added “I definitely think they’ll be in the tournament. They’re a really good team. And down the stretch and throughout the whole game, yes, it definitely had that feel. They’re a really really good team.”
Vanderbilt will look to improve on their season record (16-5, 5-1 SEC) as they finish up the year against all conference opponents, including next week against Arkansas with a record of 15-6, 3-3 against SEC teams.