Ignited by a pair of 3-pointers from seniors Jenni Benningfield and Hillary Hager, the Commodores opened the game with a 12-0 run. A 3-pointer from Duquesne's Aiga Bautre briefly cut the lead back to 12-3, but after the 15-minute mark in the first half, Vandy's lead never fell below double digits.
With seven minutes left in the first half, a steal and a fast break basket by Dee Davis put Vandy up by 20. The Commodores continued to build their lead until it reached 32 points on another fast-break basket by Davis with 4:01 left in the game.
The comfortable lead gave Head Coach Melanie Balcomb the opportunity to experiment with different combinations of players. The freshmen got liberal playing time, including freshman guard Caroline Williams, who made her first appearance after missing the first weeks of the season due to knee surgery.
Williams was one of five freshmen that Coach Balcomb put on the floor together with about 12 minutes left in the second half. During their two-minute stretch, they held their ground, with Cherish Stringfield and Carla Thomas scoring the points for the all-frosh unit.
Four Commodores scored in double figures, led by Jenni Benningfield with 19, Ashley Earley (14), Dee Davis (14), and Hillary Hager (12). Hager was leading rebounder with 9, followed by Earley with 6. Davis' 11 assists gave her her first double-double as a Commodore.
Candace Futrell, who came into the game averaging 21 points per game, led the Dukes in scoring with 14 points, with 9 of those points coming from the free-throw line. Futrell was also leading rebounder for Duquesne with 8 boards.
The Commodores shot 55.9% (63.6% from 3-point range) for the game, while holding Duquesne to only 31.7% (23.8% from 3-point range) shooting. Vanderbilt also out-rebounded the Dukes 40-33. Turnovers were almost equal with 16 for the Vanderbilt and 17 for Duquesne. The Commodores were better able to capitalize on them, however, with 27 points off Duquesne turnovers vs. only 8 Dukes points off Vandy turnovers.
Next action for Vanderbilt is a road trip to Memphis to play the University of Memphis Tigers on Thursday night at 7 p.m. Next home game for the Commodores is next Saturday against Weber State at 2 p.m.
POST GAME COMMENTS
Head Coach Melanie Balcomb: Two things I think were really important tonight was the tempo of the game. This was the first game I felt like we controlled the tempo. We wanted to attack and be very aggressive and pressure the ball at every position, and we did that defensively, and we also wanted to attack on offense, really get out in transition, and we did that. The second thing is it's the first game where we've actually put our offense and defense together in one game. I'm really proud of our effort tonight for those two reasons.
The Press: .Can you talk about your defensive strategy for Futrell? She only shot 2-of-19.
Coach Balcomb: One of the big things we wanted to do was mix up our defenses on her, also know where she was all the time and communicate and make sure that she didn't get any easy open 3's. She's been shooting the ball from 3 at times. Offensive rebounding-- she's been getting fouled. She does everything 2 times more than everybody else on the team. We were really proud of holding her to 2-of-19, but she did go 9 of 10 from the free-throw line, which is what she's been doing, and she did have eight rebounds. So that was one our keys, to have pride and try to shut down their best scorer, and we really did focus on her all game and all day in practice yesterday.
The Press: You seemed to mix up your rotation from last game.
Coach Balcomb: That was just because basically we had a lead, and I wanted to see different rotations. It's about combinations, and I had most of the time put Jenni in with Carla, and then Ashley in with Jenn Hall. Because we had a big lead, I was able to make some different substitutions and see how different looks would look without taking a big chance.
The Press: Caroline Williams got into a game for the first time this year. Can you talk about what you hope she brings?
Coach Balcomb: I'm hoping she'll give us another 3-point threat. In practice, she's tremendous 3-point shooter. She's very athletic. She is fast up and down the floor, fast laterally, and I think she can defend. I think she can give us another 3-point threat. It's hard to say because she's only been practicing-- she builds up each day, and I just yesterday was told she could play a few minutes today.
The Press: What happened to Katie [Antony]?
Coach Balcomb: She just got poked in the eye. It was actually her eyeball itself, which is why she screamed. She couldn't open her eye and had blurred vision for about ten minutes, and now it's real swollen and puffy. But it wasn't like she got hit and bruised around here (gesturing around her eye). It was actually in her eye, and it's really painful when you lose focus for a while, and it'll be pretty ugly.
The Press: Were you surprised Caroline didn't get a shot off in the time she was in?
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, she wasn't looking for her shot. We talked to her about just getting in the flow of the game, it being her first game. She's a shooter, and she's got a shooter's mentality, but we actually had told her to just try to get in the flow, get comfortable, not to go in and take quick shots. We didn't think she'd not shoot the whole time, but-- later on, we were like, OK, you can shoot it now, Caroline! I think she just needs to get some confidence and get in the flow, because in practice she doesn't have any trouble shooting the ball.
The Press: 36 hours isn't much time, but it seemed like Dee and Katie were like night and day compared to Thursday. Was it something different Duquesne did, or was it better ball control on Dee and Katie's side of things?
Coach Balcomb: I think New Orleans is a very different team than Duquesne. They kept it chaotic and pressed the whole game and was athletic and played 11 people, and they just keep running people at you. That's a very tough kind of team to play. Duquesne didn't press nearly as much as they did, and we could really get in our flow and on transition a lot better than we had.
But Dee and Katie in those 48 hours spent a lot of extra time watching film from the last game individually on top of what-- you only have one day, we were basically working on Duquesne and had a tremendous practice. I'll be honest with you. Our team was so mentally prepared for practice, and is taking everything we're teaching to heart. They're extremely coachable right now. And then Dee and Katie both came in individually and watched more film because they weren't happy with what they had done at the point. We had talked about a lot of things extra. They're just putting in extra time. We put in extra time on our free throws, and we shot the ball better. This team right now is coachable. They will put in extra time. They will take to heart what we do, and then they try to transfer that onto the court.
The Press: You talked about this being the first time putting offense and defense together. It looked like it was the most successful you've been on transition on year. Was that coming out of both the defense and what you want from the offense?
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, because we got so much offense off our defense, which is part of our philosophy, create easy layups and get numbers, and we did that. We controlled the boards, so on misses we could run. We also got a lot of easy buckets early off steals. We were more aggressive. But again, we were playing a different defense than we were against New Orleans. New Orleans weren't outside shooters, so we weren't pressuring, and we weren't up in passing lanes, and we were sagging off. This team we were out pressuring and creating a lot of easy layups and 2 on 1's and 1 on none's and things. We just got numbers in transition because of our defense, and that's what we want to do.
The Press: It looked like you got some of the 2-3 zone better this game.
Coach Balcomb: We just played it differently. We play our matchup differently, we tweak it to whatever team we're playing. On this team, we were concerned. We thought we might have to go all man against this team because they had good shooters. But we did a good job talking, especially at the top of the zone, talking and getting out pressuring the ball and trying to alleviate the quick skip passes and stepping in their space and doing the things we asked them to do. Ball pressure was very good, so we were allowed to play matchup a lot more than we thought we would be able to.
The Press: Coach, at one point you had five freshmen on the floor. Did that just happen in the flow of the rotation, or was it planned?
Coach Balcomb: I did it on purpose, and I think my staff thought I was crazy and were going to tell me, "What are you doing?!" So I went over to my staff and said, "Yes, I know what I'm doing. I know I have five freshmen on the floor right now." But I wanted to do it to see how they would respond. I talked to them in the huddle, and I said, "Yes, I know you're all freshmen, and you need to step up and you need to communicate and you need to lead without the seniors out there, and see how you do." I said, "I wouldn't have done this earlier on, if I didn't have confidence in doing this right now, I wouldn't put you out there with so much time in the game. I thought it would be interesting to see, and I thought it would build their confidence and let them know that i was confident enough in the playing time and the way they've been playing that I could do that. It was really just to boost their confidence and to see what would happen.
Coach Balcomb left, and senior forward Jenni Benningfield and freshman point guard Dee Davis took their places at the table.
The Press: Dee, coach said that you watched a lot of film and see what you had done against UNO. What did you see about your play and how did it transform into how you played today?
Dee Davis: Well, Coach is always telling me to go fast to slow, so therefore in transition, when I push the ball, I have to slow down a little bit and see my options and not try to take it to the hole as much if I don't have numbers. But the film just helped me to see that I was taking bad choices like that on certain breaks, but today I think I was a little more confident, and my teammates stepped up a lot more, and I was able to get them the ball.
The Press: Jenni, can you talk about your team's defense against Futrell?
Jenni Benningfield: Candace Futrell is an incredible player. We were watching film, and she plays 40 minutes hard. I remember her from this past summer, and I knew what she could do. She has a little bit of something to give any type of defense, so when we were watching film, I think everybody realized how good she really is. And one of the keys to our game was pride in our defense. I think we've really stepped up our defense in the past couple of days, if not the last week and a half. We've got to take ownership of what our responsibilities on defense are, and we were able to do that tonight and gave her a frustrating night. And that's good, because we got a win out of it.
The Press: Jenni, as seniors and returning veterans, do you take a certain sense of pride in watching the development of the freshmen?
Jenni: Oh yeah. It's awesome to see them-- Dee, for example, she's gained so much confidence and gotten so much better. Every week she gets better, and it's awesome to see that, and the thing is, we try to teach them little things that we know. It doesn't necessarily have to be the coaches teaching them. Sometimes it's easier to hear from a teammate and explain it in a way that we'll understand it because we're out there. it's not even just about that, it's about everybody. When everybody gets better, everybody gets excited. Her confidence is awesome because it makes things a lot more easier out there to play with and to feel confident playing with her and knowing what she can do. It's fun. It's fun to see the freshmen doing as well as they are, and the thing is, they are like a sponge. They are wanting the responsibility to get better. They're wanting to get better every day. They're not using "I'm a freshman" as an excuse. A lot of people do that. They have not done that. That's what we needed them to do for us to be a good basketball team, and I really think they're going to continue to do that. do that.
Dee: Thanks, man. (Laughter.)
The Press: Jenni, is this the most complete performance you guys have had this year?
Jenni: We were talking about that in the locker room and even on the floor. We always want to play a full 40 minutes, offense and defense, both sides of the floor. But tonight at different points, it was incredible to watch, even when I was out there and when I was sitting out watching, everything was just clicking, everybody was on the same page. And that's exciting. We were talking about that last game. Once everybody gets on the same page and understands what the game plan is, and what we're doing and really focusing on what Vanderbilt basketball does, we're going to be good. And tonight I think we took the first step in doing that. People were getting in passing lanes-- our defense really helped our offense get going tonight. In a couple of our first games, our defense hadn't really been there, for guards and posts. We just meshed really well today. That's a good confidence booster going into our road game against Memphis next week. It was real exciting. I think everybody was having a lot of fun out there.
Photo of Memorial Maniacs and No. 42 Jenni Benningfield by Whitney D for VandyMania.com. Click on thumbnails to view a larger image.