The Commodores were without both Andre Walker and Lance Goulbourne in the victory.
"We found out after [the team] had gone to pregame meal that Lance would not be able to play tonight," said Coach Kevin Stallings following the game. "Rod Odom and Joe Duffy came in and really played great for us."
Goulbourne had been starting in place of Andre Walker, who has been sidelined with mono. Coach Stallings explained that last year, Goulbourne purchased a Vanderbilt parking permit through a Vanderbilt student manager. Even though Goulbourne purchased the parking pass with his money, he was declared ineligible for Tuesday night's game. Coach Stallings was unsure when Goulbourne will return to the lineup.
Without Walker and Goulbourne, the Commodores struggled to find consistency early in the game, scoring just 12 points in the first 10 minutes of play, leading MTSU by a slim two point margin. With just under two minutes left in the first half, sophomore guard John Jenkins scored 9 consecutive points and recorded a steal to stretch Vanderbilt's lead to 14 going into halftime.
"It was a very big game," said John Jenkins after the game. Jenkins' family was in attendance for the game, played in MTSU's Murphy Center, the venue for the Tennessee high school state basketball tournament. "The state tournament was held here… I never played here before… I felt like I was in high school again." Jenkins finished the night with 16 points, 3 steals and 2 blocks.
Junior forward Jeffery Taylor led all scorers with 18 points, including 8 of his 10 free throw attempts. MTSU had no answer for Taylor driving to the basket and was forced to commit fouls throughout the contest. Starting forward Shawn Jones was limited to just 7 minutes of playing time and fouled out midway through the second half.
Festus Ezeli had another huge night for the Commodores, picking up 15 points and getting to the free throw line 12 times. "Festus's presence in this game was huge," said Coach Stallings. "He created foul problems for them the whole night."
Ezeli has consistently picked up his level of play this season and the Commodores will look to him as a cornerstone as SEC play picks up next month. A key to Ezeli's game will be his free throw shooting. "He didn't make his free throws like we think he will, but we has really a dominant player in this game," continued Coach Stallings. Ezeli made just 5 of his 12 free throw attempts.
Jason Jones led the Blue Raiders with 15 points and 6 rebounds. Jones connected on 6 of his 9 shots from the field and turned the ball over just one time. However, his effort was not enough to keep his team in the game, as MTSU shot just 32 percent from the field in the second half.
The Commodores will host Marquette in Memorial Gymnasium after Christmas break on the 29th before the final non-conference game against Davidson on January 2nd. Coach Stallings said that team doctors have cleared Andre Walker to return to the lineup following Christmas break.