Vandy goes small, streaks past Gaels, 89-70

Kyle Fuller (VM/Stan Jones)

John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor each had 19 points and helped neutralize St. Mary's dynamic guards on Saturday afternoon as the Commodores rolled to an 89-70 victory over the Gaels in Nashville.

The Commodores improved to 14-4 overall and dealt St. Mary's its first loss since December 1st against San Diego State.

"I really enjoyed how my team played today," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings after the game. "After the first six or eight minutes of the game I thought we competed with purpose and intensity, and we obviously shot it well, so that made a big difference."

Steve Tchiengang scored for the first time in four games, and Festus Ezeli added eight points in 18 minutes before sitting out the majority of the second half with foul trouble. Injuries to Tchiengang's ankle and Ezeli's knee have limited the efficiency and mobility of the two big men in recent weeks and have challenged the Vanderbilt coaching staff to be creative with its personnel decisions.

"When Festus got in foul trouble, Steve went in, and his ankle was hurting, so we just went small," Stallings said. "And it really kind of precludes us from running most of our plays, but it might've helped us on the defensive end because their ball screens were not as effective when we had our small lineup in because we started switching on them. That seemed to be a difference-maker for us, and we ended up never going back with the big lineup."

Lance Goulbourne made his presence felt inside while Ezeli and Tchiengang sat, finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds to record his second straight double-double. Freshmen Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller both saw increased minutes as well on Saturday as the availability of the injured veterans came into question.

"I thought our two freshmen came in and gave us great minutes. Kyle Fuller in the first half, I thought his energy was what sort of catapulted us and got us the lead and got us the momentum," Stallings said.

Vanderbilt overcame several early turnovers with an aggressive defensive performance against a St. Mary's team that entered Saturday's game eighth in the country in points per game and second in field goal percentage. Gaels leading scorer Mickey McConnell was held to just two points in the first half and finished with just six, thanks in large part to the efforts of Taylor and freshman Kyle Fuller.

"That was one of our big points of emphasis in the game," said guard Brad Tinsley of the Commodores' ability to contain McConnell and the rest of the Gaels' scorers. "They've got three guys on the perimeter that shoot well over 40 percent, we thought we had to get to them on kick-outs or drives or whatever. I thought our guys did a great job guarding the perimeter."

Tinsley finished with a season-high 18 points, including two of Vanderbilt's 11 three-pointers.

Sophomore Matthew Dellavedova played all 40 minutes and led the Gaels with 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He scored seven points and added two assists in the opening five minutes of the second half to help the visitors jump out on a 14-4 run that cut a 15-point Vanderbilt lead at halftime down to just five.

But John Jenkins responded with a deep three-pointer on Vanderbilt's next possession with 14:56 left in the game, and the Commodores quickly built their lead back out to double-digits.

"We want to protect our house," said Jenkins, who turned to his left and got the student section fired up on his way back down the court after hitting the shot. "We don't want to lose at home, and we knew this was a big game for us. I hit that big three, and then after that, it was good from there."

The Commodores shot 50% from three-point range and 52% from the field to help take advantage of an off shooting day behind the arc from the Gaels. St. Mary's hit just six of its 23 three-point attempts.

Vanderbilt gets back into SEC play on Thursday as the Commodores head to Starkville to take on Mississippi State.

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