Kevin Stallings' Commodores grabbed an early lead and never let go, and the result was a hard-earned, 73-60 Commodore triumph. Senior forward Matt Freije turned in a magnificent performance with a career-high 32 points and 13 rebounds.
What can one say about the crowd? It was electric, deafening, and into the game the whole way. For two golden hours, the old, historic gym rocked with all the passion David Williams and Gorden Gee had envisioned when they lowered ticket prices to lure long-time fans back. The yelling and cheering spilled out onto the streets surrounding the gym, and was heard for long into the night afterward.
Section 3F was loaded all the way to the very top nosebleed seats-- the lower level by Commodore fans, and the upper level by Indiana fans. As promised, the public relations office was hard at work too. Free T-shirts were doled out to several thousand at the doors, and up in 3F every seat had a "Memorial Gym Rats" shirt. (We can thank ORDore for that phrase-- and yes, I managed to grab an extra T-shirt for you, buddy. E-mail me and I will send it out.)
The performance was clearly a turnaround from last year, and the rowdy assemblage of fans demonstrated its appreciation with waves of cheers and standing ovations throughout the game. Considering we were without the vocal student body, the sidewalk and alumni fans filled the gap admirably. I saw more kids at this game than I can ever remember, and almost everyone was clad in some gold or black. If you get a chance get out to Memorial for a big game this year, it should be quite an experience.
The 2003-04 Commodores may be a very difficult team to contend with all season long, for one main reason: great defense. Jason Holwerda was all over Indiana superstar Bracey Wright, and held him in check all night. On the other end, Matt Freije did his magic on offense.
Every player that played contributed in some fashion, and for those of you worried about the interior defense, Vanderbilt had eight (yes, EIGHT) blocked shots. Ted Skuchas and David Przybyszewski played tough when Julian Terrell got into foul trouble, and contributed quality minutes. Mario Moore finally scored in a regular-season game, and nailed a 3-point shot that answered an Indiana 3-pointer midway through the second half. That brought the crowd to its feet, where it mostly stayed the rest of the game.
Last year's team might have folded in the second half when Indiana made a couple of runs at the lead. This team was able to weather the storms, and in the end Vanderbilt's depth and experience took control. The Commodores treated the crowd and a regional Fox Sports television audience to an unforgettable show.
Yes, it's still very early in the season. Yes, this was certainly not one of Indiana's greatest teams. But with Matt Freije now averaging 28 points in his first two games, and with this much experience and depth, there's a strong sense that Kevin Stallings might have this team poised for one of those special years.