"They fought, scrapped, played physical, played tough, had purpose on offense, had active hands on defense," said head coach Kevin Stallings. "All the things that we would like our team to do that we didn't do, they did. They got what they deserved."
The Commodores (1-1) came out with more fire in the second half but were ultimately doomed by a poor shooting effort across the board. Jenkins made just two of his eight three-point attempts and finished with 17 points on 5-of-14 shooting from the field. Tchiengang finished with a game-high 10 rebounds but struggled to consistently contribute on the offensive end, finishing with just five points. Taylor and Brad Tinsley were both held scoreless in the second half after combining for 16 points in the first half.
With a starting lineup that comprises four seniors and a junior, the Vikings kept their composure and countered every rally with a tough shot or an impressive hustle play. After missing all of last season with a hand injury, senior D'Aundary Brown led Cleveland State with 18 points, eight rebounds and seven steals in his first game in over a year and a half.
Senior Jeremy Montgomery hit a three-pointer over Jenkins with 1:33 to play in the first half to give the Vikings a 37-21 lead, their largest of the game. Then with 2:54 to play in the game and the Commodores staging their final rally, Montgomery hit a deep three to extend the lead out to 12 and effectively put the game out of reach.
"It's like holding your breath, and taking that last breather, and it fell through because today's Sunday, and it's God's day," Montgomery said of his big shot. "I couldn't be more excited for this win."
Vanderbilt's guards struggled to break the pressure applied by Cleveland State throughout the game. The Commodores finished with 21 turnovers.
"They were getting into our point guards and making it hard to get up the court and set up an offense," Tchiengang said. "The wings were struggling to get open, and that kind of disrupted the whole offense."
"We continually tried to cross the ball over in front of them, and they continually kept taking it," Stallings said. "I wish they had sent us a Federal Express package that said ‘We're going to take your ball if you cross it over in front of us because we're good.' Apparently we didn't get the memo, because we kept doing it, and they kept taking it."
An early sequence in the second half helped jump-start a 14-4 Vanderbilt run. Left alone in transition with just under 17 minutes to play, Jenkins hit an open three-pointer to cut the score to 41-31, then Taylor grabbed the pass off the inbound for an easy lay-in that brought the crowd to its feet and forced a Cleveland State timeout. Minutes later, Taylor fed Goulbourne for a dunk in transition to cut the deficit to three, but Trevon Harmon hit a tough mid-range jumper to help the Vikings regain control.
"That's not Vanderbilt basketball, in my opinion, and I look forward to getting it corrected," Goulbourne said of the team's performance.
The Commodores take on Bucknell on Tuesday night in Nashville at 7:00 p.m. CT.