Vandy claims tournament title in Vermont

Vanderbilt won the Banknorth Classic championship by defeating the host Vermont Catamounts 65-54 Saturday night in Burlington, Vt. The Vandy offense, which sputtered during Friday's night victory over South Alabama, showed improvement in the second game of the season. But the game was won on defense, as the Commodores held the Cats to 34% shooting from the field.

The Vanderbilt Commodores won the Banknorth Classic championship by defeating the host Vermont Catamounts 65-54 Saturday night in Burlington, Vt. The Vanderbilt offense, which sputtered during Friday's night victory over South Alabama, showed improvement in the second game of the season. But once again, the game was won on defense, as the Commodores held the Cats to 34% shooting from the field.

For a while it appeared as though Saturday's game might be a repeat of Friday's tightly contested overtime struggle. Seven minutes into the game, the score was knotted at 10-10, and Vermont took a 12-10 lead on a couple of free throws.

But that turned out to be the Catamounts' last lead of the game. Hillary Hager hit a 3-pointer to give Vanderbilt the lead, then made a steal, and Vanderbilt capitalized with a basket by Jenni Benningfield on the other end. Another Vanderbilt steal, this time by Ashley Earley, led to points when Benningfield scored again on a pass from Earley, to give Vanderbilt a 17-12 lead with seven minutes left in the half.

The Commodores continued to slowly build on the lead, even though three freshmen were on the court at the same time for most of the rest of the half. Freshman guard Cherish Stringfield scored five points in the final 20 seconds of the first half, first sinking a 3-pointer, then scoring on a fast break to give Vanderbilt a 35-24 halftime lead.

In the second half, the teams basically held their ground. The Commodores threatened to put the game out of reach when their lead reached 15 points on two consecutive baskets from Carla Thomas five minutes into the second half, but Vermont kept hanging around.

Throughout most of the second half, the Commodore lead hovered around 12-14 points. Late in the half, the Catamounts threatened to make one last-ditch run. Consecutive three-pointers energized the hometown crowd and cut Vandy's lead to just 61-51 with 2:19 left.

Vermont resorted to fouling to send Vanderbilt to the free throw line. Unrattleld by the pressure, freshmen point guard Dee Davis dashed the Catamounts' hopes by connecting on all four of her free throw attempts in the last minute of the game.

Freshman guard Cherish Stringfield and junior forward Ashley Earley led Commodores in scoring with 15 points each, following by senior forward Jenni Benningfield with 14. Benningfield and Earley were the leading rebounders with 7 each. Freshman point guard Dee Davis had 8 assists, and senior guard Hillary Hager dished out 5.

Vanderbilt shot 50% from the field for the game, while holding Vermont to just 34%. The Catamounts out-rebounded the Commodores 35-31, while Vanderbilt had fewer turnovers 19-17.

Ashley Earley, who averaged 16 points and 12.5 rebounds in the two games, was named tournament MVP, and Jenni Benningfield was named to the all-tournament team.

Vanderbilt returns home Friday to play in its own tournament. The Commodores meet Samford at 2 p.m., followed immediately by Louisville vs. Princeton. On Saturday the losers of the first-round games face each other at 1 p.m., and the winners go for the championship at 3 p.m.

Postgame Comments

After the game, VandyMania talked with Head Coach Melanie Balcomb, freshman guard Cherish Stringfield, and junior forward Ashley Earley.

VM: Could you talk about tonight's game compared to last night's game?

Coach Balcomb: I think we made some really good changes defensively. We watched film all afternoon, and we made a lot of changes in our matchup that really helped, and again, I think we got a lot more offense off our defense than we had in the past, and I'm just really proud of the changes they made from yesterday to today when we asked them to do it.

VM: Could you make some comments about the play of some of your players, especially the freshmen?

Coach Balcomb: I look on the floor, and we had a lot of freshmen out there, like three at a time with Carla and Dee and Cherish, and we made runs with those players on the floor, and that's exciting. They all gave us great minutes. Dee's been playing well and consistent and being in a lot of end-of-game situations, hitting free throws down the stretch. And you've got Cherish, who really stepped up big today and hit three's but made some great defensive plays for us. I thought Carla did a great job today on the boards. We've just got to keep Carla out of foul trouble, or she would have played more. She gets some quick fouls, but, man, she got it done on the boards and hit even an elbow shot. So those three freshmen, especially, and Katie's been doing well, so I think they're just getting a lot of minutes.

VM: Can you talk a little about Ashley Earley?

Coach Balcomb: Ashley Earley is playing on a whole other level right now, and she's done that all year, from the day practice started, and I think she's very confident on both ends of the floor, and I think you can tell just in how she carries herself. She's in better shape than she's ever been, and she understands, and everything's not new to her anymore, so that's really helped her confidence.

VM: Cherish, could you talk about last night's game compared to today's game?

Cherish Stringfield: Well, tonight we were much more focused. We dug down on offense. We executed better than we did last night and basically we just came in more focused on getting the job done.

VM: Did you feel different when you were on the floor tonight?

Cherish: I just try to play every game. I try to be real comfortable on the floor, just play, and don't think as much.

VM: Can you talk about the play of some of your teammates?

Cherish: Ashley Earley had a tremendous night; also last night. That's why she had MVP. She just did everything that we expected of her in the post, so did Jenni. Hillary, everybody else, just contributed. We played well on defense. That as the key to last night's game as well as this night's game. Defense won it for us.

VM: Ashley, Coach Balcomb said you're playing on a whole other level right now.

Ashley Earley: I think it's my mentality. I'm just getting a lot of confidence from my teammates. They've always had confidence in me, but I just think I'm just now realizing their confidence in me, and I think I'm feeding off that more.

VM: This has been developing all through the summer, hasn't it? I thought I saw a sense of determination when I talked to you this summer.

Ashley: Yeah, all of us. When we came in in the summer, we were trying to focus on getting better. We all realized we were losing two great players in Ashley and Chantelle and we still wanted to be good, so we knew we needed to come in and work hard in the summer. That's where players are made-- in the summer. You can't come in the first day of practice and start working and expect to be better, so I just think we all worked really hard this summer.

VM: Can you talk about some of the freshmen?

Ashley: The freshmen are really coming along. They're going to have to in order for us to succeed. They're working really hard. You saw the game. We still have some things to work on, but we're winning games by defense and just working hard and just leaving everything out on the court. Top Stories