It all started with the greatest player in Vanderbilt history. Junior
center Clyde Lee dominated inside. The 6-10 pivot man could hit the jumper
from 15 feet away, score on several different inside muscle moves, control both
boards, stop opponents from scoring inside, and pass and move as well as any big
man in the nation. To say Lee was Mickey Mantle on the collegiate hardwoods
is not an overstatement.
6-08 senior power forward Bob “Snake” Grace was the perfect compliment to
Lee. Known around the league as a “hatchet man,” Grace had actually led the
conference in rebounding as a sophomore before switching from center to forward
once Lee joined the varsity. The agile, yet powerful forward from Guthrie,
Kentucky, could carry the team offensively if the opposition concentrated too
much of their efforts on Lee.
Small forward Wayne Taylor was the team’s defensive specialist. The 6-05
senior could guard just about any player Vandy faced. He could shut down
the opponents’ best scorer man-to-man without getting much
help. Offensively, Taylor excelled in running the fast break, and he went
through periods where he had the hot hand.
6-03 shooting guard Keith Thomas began the season as the sixth man. When
Schurig was forced to leave the team after first semester exams, Thomas moved
into the starting lineup and began to display some of the best outside shooting
skills ever to be put on display at Memorial Gymnasium. Not just a one
dimensional player, Thomas was cat-like quick. He frequently sped by
defenders on the fast break, and he could drive by opponents getting to the
basket and drawing fouls.
The quarterback of the team was 6-01 senior John Ed Miller. The point
guard from Union City, Tennessee, was the complete perimeter player. He
could hit the jumper from 22 feet out, get the ball inside to Lee and Grace,
finish the fast break better than any other SEC player, steal the ball, and play
more than capable defense.
On the bench, sixth man Wayne Calvert was instant offense. The 6-03
swing man could score 20 points in 10-12 minutes of action. Calvert was
known as “Pops” since he was married and had a three-year-old son in 1965.
Ron Green could have started for eight or nine other SEC teams. The 6-07
forward was a smaller imitation of Lee. If you are old enough to remember
Frank Kornet in the late 1980’s, you have a sense of how Green played.
6-05 forward Kenny Gibbs would eventually replace Lee in the pivot in
1966-67. The Somerset, Kentucky, native had moments in the championship
season where he showed everyone just how good we would be before graduating.
6-08 Garner Petrie rounded out the lineup. With a glut of talent inside,
Petrie’s minutes were limited. At times, he made some plays that showed he
belonged on this team.
The Commodores breezed to the Southeastern Conference championship with a
15-1 league record. 12 of the 15 victories came by double digit
margins. Already having clinched the crown and berth in the NCAA “Sweet
16,” the Commodores wrapped up the regular season with home games against Tulane
and LSU. The Commodores quickly disposed of the Green Wave 85-62, and there
was one final home game to play as a sendoff to the Mideast Regionals in
LSU was no power in 1965, but the Tigers had more than pride to play for in
their season finale. The purple Bengals entered this game with a 12-13
record. An upset could give them a .500 record. Earlier in the season in
Baton Rouge, Vandy won 96-85, but LSU's big men held their own against Lee and
Forward Dick Maile was a consensus all-SEC pick. He led the Tigers with
a 17.5 points per game and 10.1 rebounds per game average. Center Bill
Wilson averaged 9.6 boards per game, giving the Tigers a rebounding duo second
only to Lee and Grace. Forward Harry Heroman was a streaky shooter who
could score points rapidly when he got the hot hand. Fouling him was a
losing proposition, as he connected on well over 80% of his free tosses. In
the backcourt, Wayne Tipton was over-sized for a guard in the 1960’s. He
frequently took smaller defenders inside. Point guard Brad Brian scored
most of his points from outside. When opponents sagged inside to stop Maile
and Wilson, Brian could burn them with a jumper. Two players contributed
most of the reserve points; Sophomore Kenny Drost had the potential to be a star
one day, while post player Tommy Thigpen offered the Tigers another option
The strength of this LSU squad was its inside power. The Tigers averaged
50 rebounds a game and many of their 12 wins were attributed to their
controlling the boards. If an opponent could stop their inside game, the
perimeter game was not good enough to win on its own.
Vandy won the tap, and Lee scored on a tip-in of a missed shot to give Vandy
a 2-0 lead. Heroman responded with a short basket to knot the score at
2-2. That was the last tie of the game. After Lee scored on a basket
just a foot or two away from the rim, the Commodores led for good. Thomas
followed with a long jumper, and then Grace wheeled inside on Maile and hit a
basket while being fouled. He completed the three-point play by sinking the
foul shot to make it 7-2.
Nine minutes into the game, Vandy led 15-12. At that point, great
pressure defense and the fast break put the game out of reach. It started
with Lee hitting a single shot from the charity stripe. Following a Tiger
turnover, Thomas hit from outside to make it 18-12. Lee, Grace, and Gibbs
proceeded to hit from inside, and when Taylor hit back-to-back jumpers, the
Commodores led 28-14, Heromans’s jumper being the only LSU points in a
Lee closed out the half scoring six points in the final two minutes, and the
Commodores went to the break up 42-21. Big Clyde had 14 points.
After Tipton started the second half with a bucket for LSU, the Commodores
went on another long run to make this game a slaughter. Lee controlled the
inside at both ends of the floor, dominating on the boards and scoring almost at
will against Wilson. When Lee couldn’t retrieve a missed shot, Grace was
there on the opposite side of the basket to pull down the missed
shot. LSU’s perimeter players collapsed inside to help stop Lee, and Thomas
made them pay by hitting several outside jumpers.
A short hook by Lee pushed the lead to 25 points at 57-32. A long jumper
by Miller pushed the lead over 30 points at 65-34. A tip-in by Gibbs six
minutes later gave the Commodores a 41-point lead at 88-47 with five and a half
minutes to go. A driving one-hander by Calvert made the 1964-65 scoreboard
move from “99” to “01.” Prior to gym expansion in 1969, the old
Coca-Cola-sponsored scoreboard only included spots for two digits for each
team’s score. As happened four or five times every year during the Roy
Skinner era, two digits were not always enough for the Commodores.
When Petrie entered the game and sank a short jumper to make the score
105-67, every Commodore had scored. Thomas hit one foul shot, and Thigpen
hit a lay-up at the buzzer to make the final score 106-69 Vandy.
What was supposed to be a hard-fought battle of the boards never developed
into such. Vanderbilt dominated at both ends, winning this battle by 41 at
79-38! Lee led the way with 19 rebounds, while Grace added 16. Off the
bench, Green and Gibbs both hauled in seven missed shots. Even Thomas and
Miller got into the act finishing with six and five respectively.
The efforts of the Commodore guards outnumbered the regular two big LSU
rebounders. Wilson and Maile combined for just eight boards.
Vanderbilt finished the game shooting 46 of 91 from the field for 50.5%,
while LSU couldn’t get inside for baskets and hit just 25 of 87 for a paltry
28.7%. At the foul line, Vandy hit on 14 of 20 for 70%, while LSU connected
on 19 of 27 for 70.4%.
Lee led the scoring onslaught for the Gold Men with 26 points. Thomas
hit for 18 and Miller added 14. Gibbs came off the bench to chip in 12
points, while Taylor and Grace narrowly missed out on double figures with nine
Maile tried 20 shots for the Tigers, but Lee and Grace were always close by
to force him to shoot from out of his comfort range. The LSU star connected
on only three of those 20 attempts and added just one free throw for seven
points. Thigpen led the Tigers from off the bench with 16
points. Heroman scored 15 points, but he hooked up only 6 of 17 from the
field. Tipton scored 14 points.
The win ended the Vanderbilt regular season at 23 wins and three losses and a
perfect 14-0 at home (outscoring opponents at Memorial Gym by an average of 86.4
to 69.5). Commodore fans left the gym feeling confident their team would do
well in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Three More Big Home Wins Over LSU
January 31, 1976
All-SEC guard Kenny Higgs popped in 29 points, picked up six rebounds and
doled out five assists and center Ed LeBlanc recorded a double-double with 14
points and 15 rebounds, but the Commodores prevailed 103-90 thanks to
outstanding efforts by Butch Feher and Joe Ford. Feher scored 28 points and
picked up nine rebounds, while Ford scored 21 points.
The Commodores connected on 37 out of 44 free throw attempts, while LSU hit
only 12 of 21. Vandy forced the Tigers to commit 22 turnovers, and the
Bayou Bengals fouled rather than give up easy baskets.
LSU led early by as much as eight points at 12-4. The Commodores’ fast
break struck lightning midway through the first half, and the Gold Men went on a
26-4 run, with Ford and Feher scoring 19 of the 26 points.
Leading 57-37 to start the second half, the black and gold lengthened the
lead to 31 points in the opening seven minutes. At that point, Coach
Skinner began going deep into his bench. Carl Crain, Tim Thompson, Jay
Lowenthal, Keith Page, Mike Moore, Spence Young, and Neil Bemenderfer all saw
considerable time off the bench. LSU made a run at the end to reduce the
deficit to 13; a lay-up by Young in the final minute put the Commodores over the
February 18, 1989
With a share of first place in the SEC up for grabs, these two teams battled
it out at Memorial Gym in front of a prime time national television
audience. Freshman sensation Chris Jackson entered this game averaging 30
points per contest, and he showcased his skills for the nation. Commodore
coach C.M. Newton learned his basketball strategy from his mentor Adolph
Rupp. Rupp believed that one star could not beat a five-man
team. Newton was concerned with stopping the other four LSU starters—Ricky
Blanton, Wayne Sims, Vernel
Singleton, and Lyle Mouton.
Vanderbilt started a balanced quintet including forwards Barry Booker and
Eric Reid, center Frank Kornet, and guards Barry Goheen and Derrick
Wilcox. Prime contributors off the bench by this point of the schedule were
forward Steve Grant and center Alberto Ballestra. Charles Mayes supplied
support in the backcourt.
Jackson proved to be nearly unstoppable scoring more than one point per
minute played. He finished with 38 points on 14 of 25 shooting and 6 of 12
from behind the arc. The rest of the Tiger team could only manage 14 field
goals. Blanton was held to a 3 of 10 shooting effort and ended the game
with just seven points in 35 minutes of play.
Vanderbilt spread the ball around and attacked the LSU junk defense. The
starting five combined for 33 of 58 shooting from the field and 8 of 16 from
three-point land. Goheen continually drove the lane on the smaller LSU
guards and drew foul after foul. He connected on all 10 of his free throw
The two teams played rather even ball for the first 20 minutes with Vandy
forging ahead just before the buzzer. At the half, it was 41-36
The second half reminded many black and gold faithful of the 1960’s. LSU
missed a shot, a Commodore retrieved the rebound, and two or three points were
quickly scored on the fast break. The lead quickly ballooned to 10, then
15, then 20, then, 25, and finally 30 points. All five Commodore starters
got in on the action and reached double figures. Vandy cruised to an
outstanding 108-74 blowout.
The two Barry’s combined for 44 points with Goheen scoring 23 and Booker
adding 21. Kornet tallied 17 points, while Wilcox added 13 and Reid had
12. All five starters hauled in five or more rebounds, as Vandy dominated
the glass by a count of 43 to 23. Late in the game, Coach Newton inserted
freshman Todd Milholland into the game. He quickly tallied nine points in
just three minutes of action, outscoring the Tigers’ starting center Singleton
who only mustered eight points in 31 minutes.
February 15, 1992 (demolishing the Shaq)
The 10-10 Commodores were a depleted team. Two future NBA players, Matt
Maloney and John Amaechi, had transferred out of the program thinking that once
transfers Billy McCaffrey and Chris Lawson became eligible in November of 1992,
they wouldn’t be seeing much playing time. So, this team relied on eight
players to carry the load. Bruce Elder and Dan Hall were the forwards;
Todd Milholland started at center; and Ronnie McMahan and Kevin Anglin started
at guard. The three principal reserves were center Chris Woods, forward
Bryan Milburn, and tiny guard Aaron Beth.
LSU simply had the best player in all of college basketball starting at
center. Junior Shaquille O’Neal entered this game scoring at a 25-point
clip and averaging better than 14 rebounds a game. Defensively, he was
quite intimidating averaging close to six blocked shots and many more altered
shots per game.
Coach Eddie Fogler’s brilliant collapsing defense made it tough for Shaq’s
teammates to pass him the ball. When he got the ball, three Commodores
trapped him on the block. O’Neal couldn’t get many open looks.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt passed the ball around the horn and maneuvered to get
open looks from the outside. McMahan and Anglin were the recipients of
several excellent screens and found themselves open time and time
again. When they took those open shots, they hit better than half of
them. Once LSU’s defense was forced to spread out to stop the onslaught
from the perimeter, the high post was vacated defensively for
Milholland. Leaving Big Todd open from 15 feet away was close to conceding
a lay-up for other post players.
Vanderbilt’s first 20 minutes of action couldn’t have been any better. Vandy
surprised a regionally televised audience and 15,378 fans with their best half
of the season. The Commodores connected on 16 of 25 shots in the opening
stanza, while LSU could muster only 10 of 24 from the field. At the break,
Vandy led 36-23.
LSU made some runs in the second half behind some fine moves by Vernel
Singleton and Clarence Ceasar. However, Milholland and Hall kept Shaq away
from the glass, and the big, seven-foot all-American was virtually no offensive
factor in the game. Vandy held on for a 76-69 win to pull off the national
upset of the day.
Shaq scored a season low 10 points on 5 of 10 shooting. He managed to
pull down 11 rebounds, mostlyseveral near the end when Vanderbilt was
comfortably ahead. Defensively, he failed to block a shot and didn’t move
to stop Milholland’s foul line jumpers.
McMahan and Anglin both topped 20 points. McMahan led all scorers with
26, while Anglin added 21. Elder was the third Commodore in double figures
Aside from the final score, the glaring surprise in the stats was in the
rebounding department. Vanderbilt not only held their own on the boards,
they won the battle outright by a margin of 31-26.
February 22, 2006
Vanderbilt has definitely found the formula to conclude the season
successfully. All the Gold Men must do is arrange for every remaining
opponent to suspend three players and be forced to play a 1-3-1 zone against
Shan Foster, Derrick Byars, Dan Cage, Alex Gordon, and DeMarre
Carroll. Giving the Commodores 25-30 open looks from behind the arc is a
proposition all black and gold fans can fantasize about. Alas, LSU will not
play zone against Vandy.
Conventional wisdom says the Commodores will have to hold onto the ball and
be patient, since they are not liable to get many second shots per
possession. However, I think the Tigers are vulnerable to a quicker-paced
game with a maximum number of possessions. Houston beat them earlier in the
year by exploiting the Tigers’ then-slow defensive reaction to
transition. The Cougars repeatedly took open shots off transition and quick
ball movement, especially from behind the arc.
This may be a game where Vandy must live by the three. I don’t see the
Commodores playing at a deliberate pace and winning the game by penetrating the
heart of the Tiger defense. Open shots inside may have to come from the
fast break and passing inside to open teammates once LSU is forced to stretch
their defense to stop the perimeter attack.
Regardless of the outcome, this should be an interesting contrast of
personnel. As you watch this game, concentrate on how Vandy’s players are
making LSU’s players extend their defense. If the Tigers can keep their
defenders relatively packed in, it’s going to be a long night. If LSU has
to stretch their defense out leaves holes inside for penetration and post
feeds, Vandy can pull off the upset and head to Ole Miss with a chance to get
square in the SEC.
Defensively, the Commodores must work diligently to keep Davis away from the
ball, and try to limit Darrel Mitchell’s touches.
Those Dastardly Computer Ratings
First, I must say that none of the nation’s leading computer experts have a
way to alter their ratings when multiple players don’t suit up for one
team. I’m sure that had the binary geniuses been able to calculate new
ratings based on this fact, then Vanderbilt would have been their choice last
Saturday night in Athens. Now that Vanderbilt has emerged with another huge
road win, how does this affect their ratings? Lo and behold, they are
currently picked to beat LSU, Ole Miss, and Tennessee and finish 8-8 in the
regular season, good enough for a third place tie with Kentucky. Having
already swept the Wildcats, that would give them the number three
Ah, there’s the rub. A third seed would more than likely place Vandy
against their worst SEC Tournament nemesis—Auburn. The Tigers have the
Commodores’ number in post-season play. Starting back in 1942, the War
Eagles ended the Commodores’ season in the SEC Tournament. When the
tournament returned in 1979, third-seeded Vanderbilt faced ninth-seeded Auburn
in the opening round (due to a ridiculous seeding formula that first
year). After sweeping the Tigers in the regular season, Auburn ended the
Wayne Dobbs coaching era in Nashville with a 59-53 upset.
The two teams next met in the postseason in round two of the SEC Tournament
at Vanderbilt in 1984. This was Sonny Smith’s most talented team with
Charles Barkley and Chuck Person. Vanderbilt played valiantly, but fell
Move ahead 10 seasons. Billy McCaffrey’s senior year in 1994 saw the
Commodores squarely on the NCAA bubble. After forging a 9-7 regular season
conference record with a couple of impressive out of conference wins (including
a 92-75 win over Kevin Stallings’ Illinois State team), all that was needed was
a first round win to put the Commodores over the top. Once again, Auburn
spoiled the party with an 81-56 blowout that sent the Commodores on the road to
Norman, Oklahoma and the NIT.
Just two seasons later, Vanderbilt once again sat on the NCAA
bubble. The SEC record was only 7-9, but with wins over UCLA, Virginia,
Arkansas, and Mississippi State, it looked like two wins in the SEC Tournament
could get the 17-12 Commodores in the Big Dance. Auburn defeated Vandy in
the opening round.
Last year saw the Tigers hand Vandy yet another disappointing SEC Tournament
defeat. Needing probably just one and no more than two tournament wins to
get in the Big Dance, the Commodores laid an egg in a 77-73 defeat.
All told, Vandy is 0-6 against Auburn in the SEC Tournament, yet 74-44
against them in the regular season.
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