Vandy downs MSU 69-55 as Clarke leads way

As difficult as it is to beat a team three times in a season, #3 seed Vanderbilt (20-10), accomplished the feat handily against Mississippi State in a 69-55 thumping in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. Energized by the offense and defense of sophomore post Tiffany Clarke in the second half, the ‘Dores never trailed and led by as much as 18 with 5:55 left.

The 11th seeded Bulldogs upset #6 seed Auburn Thursday night, and while tired legs did not appear to be the issue, there was no doubt Vanderbilt benefitted from Thursday's bye as a higher seed.

Clarke managed 23 points and nine rebounds in just 20 minutes of play. After two quick fouls early in the first half, Head Coach Melanie Balcomb sat her down to observe and play after the break.

"It's very hard to do what Tiffany did," in sitting out much of the first, Balcomb said. "We talk a lot about team focus, cheering, what it means to be a great teammate on the bench. I told Tiff at halftime that she had a lot more energy than anyone else and we should see it. She didn't just bring energy, she brought toughness. She rebounded. She defended. She scored. She brought a mental and physical toughness."

Tiffany responded that she owed the team her support while she sat with the fouls. "I just let it not be about myself," the Atlanta native said, although her frustration was visible when she came off the floor initially. "I knew I wasn't going back in so I knew I had to be there for my team to cheer and keep them motivated."

Fellow post Hannah Tuomi sank 10 points, going 3 of 4 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free throw line. She acknowledged that familiarity with the Bulldogs style after playing them twice already helped lay a foundation for the win.

"Beating them twice already gave us the upper hand," she agreed. "Obviously at this point in the season you can't take any team lightly but we knew their personnel, we knew what we had to do. In the second half we really refocused on what we needed to do to get the job done."

Angela Puleo knocked down three long range shots for an 11 point total. Christina Foggie sank a 3-pointer as well, and the four long balls equaled the Bulldog's output. Yet Vandy's coaching staff wasn't satisfied with outside shooting; inside penetration was the game plan, getting the ball to Clarke and Tuomi to take higher percentage shots.

Vandy shot 52.2 percent for the game and led 36 -29 at the half. Puleo and Elan Brown were the tour de force in the first half, combining for 17 points while Clarke sat out after the two fouls in five minutes of play and zero points.

Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Vanderbilt meets No. 16 Kentucky, which edged LSU 60-58, for the third time this season. In previous outings, the Wildcats checked Vandy 80-71 in Nashville and 78-68 in Lexington, Ky. The first loss was a gut check measuring stick for the ‘Dores, a motivator that sparked a four-game win streak over Ole Miss, LSU, Florida and Georgia before losing at home to Tennessee 65-57.

Coach Balcomb says her team will be ready to battle in less than 24 hours after Friday's game ended at 11 p.m. Senior leaders Hannah and Jence Rhoads will steer that ship. "We've been successful in tournaments because they know they have to fight through and be mentally and physically tough to play the next day. They know what it takes at tournament time and how to prepare for that. The rest will follow their lead."

Posts Tiffany Clarke and Hannah Tuomi answer media questions.

Elan Brown and Gabby Smith enjoy the moment as the victory is in sight. Top Stories