Vanderbilt's 84-71 win yesterday over Tennessee State was unsurprising. TSU played hard, but they were just not a very good team. More important than winning was "how they looked" after losing back-to-back games to Illinois and Western Kentucky. I would describe the play yesterday as loose, but not sharp. They looked sharp at times, but there were definitely stretches of play yesterday where the team looked completely out of sorts. Still, after about the middle of the 1st half, the game was never really in doubt.
As Jeff Lockridge writes in today's Tennessean, Vanderbilt won yesterday because they shot the ball lights out. They finished the game 67.9% from the field, and shot a whopping 79% in the second half making 19 of the 24 attempts they took (2 of which were 3 pointers). John Jenkins showed in the first half what kind of prolific scorer he can be, pouring in 12 points on 3-4 shooing from downtown. The fact he only took 2 shots in the second half is remarkable. Jenkins still looks a little lost on defensive side of the ball at times (usually why Stallings appears to yank the kid), but he will certainly should be a potent weapon for the Commodores heading into SEC play.
Jeffrey Taylor led the team with 20 points on 10-11 shooting. Watching the game yesterday, it appears to me that Jeffrey Taylor, not Jermaine or A.J., is the emotional leader of this team (Author's note: I just saw this column from David Clymer in today's Tennessean. I posted this piece before seeing the article, but it certainly seems we are in agreement). He plays with a tremendous amount of energy, looks to get his teammates involved, and is certainly the best finisher on the team. I tweeted this yesterday, but his mid-range jumper is coming along quite nicely. I saw him hit a 18-footer on a step-back along the baseline that, along with his ability to penetrate and play above the rim, makes him a guy that NBA scouts will start to salivate over.
For me though, the key to yesterday's win, and hopefully a sign of good things to come, is the way Vanderbilt distributed the ball. The Commodores finished the game with 21 assists. Consider that in the 9 games prior, the most assists Vanderbilt had was 14 (twice against Arizona and Illinois), and that in their last two games they only had 22 combined. The Commodores offense is dynamic when as many people as possible are involved. The fact that almost 60% of VU's buckets yesterday were assisted is a sign of good things to come.
Better still, Beal had 7 of them and Brad had another 5. It's gotten heated on VSL over the proper role for Jermaine on this team. Personally, I'll take 9 points and 7 assists all day long. If Jermaine can average those kind of numbers in SEC play, I think this team will be infinitely better than if he's getting 16 points and 3 assists.
Vanderbilt is back at Monday night at 7 against Mercer at Memorial. It'd be great for another convincing win headed into the Christmas break.