Commodores face Wofford, post-exam blahs

Exams are over, and while most Vanderbilt students have departed for the holidays, a Saturday home game vs. Wofford looms for the men's basketball team. The Commodores (7-0) face the Terriers (3-5) at 7 p.m. at Memorial Gym. Plenty of good tickets remain. Can Wofford keep things interesting? Can Vanderbilt overcome the post-exam blahs? VeeMan analyzes the matchup and offers a fearless forecast.

Last Saturday Vanderbilt defeated Tennessee Tech 98-79 at Memorial Gym and raised its record to 7-0. Matt Freije fired in 31 points to lead the way, followed by Julian Terrell (16) and Corey Smith (10). Guard Cameron Crisp led the Golden Eagles with 26 points (10-of-14 from the field), and three other Tech players scored in double digits. Vanderbilt led 51-40 at the half and kept a comfortable lead during the second half, except for a brief spurt by the Golden Eagles.

Wofford enters this game with a 3-5 record. The Terriers defeated two non-Division I teams (Toccoa Falls 102-42, and Emmanuel 88-42) and beat Charleston Southern 79-73. Their losses are to Tennessee (81-70), Clemson (84-77), Texas (103-72), Western Carolina (93-79), and most recently at Florida A&M (90-65). Vanderbilt has beaten Wofford easily in all four previous meetings.

Wofford's leading scorer is 6-0 junior guard Adrien Borders, who is probably more famous for his athletic prowess than for his basketball skills-- he is the Southern Conference triple jump and long jump champion. On the court he is mainly a slasher, averaging 13.4 ppg, quick and very active, but not noted for his outside shooting.

Borders' running mate at guard is 6-2 junior Justin Stephens, the point guard. Stephens missed all but two games last year due to an injury, but averaged 12.4 ppg as a freshman. This year he is scoring 11.5 ppg and dishing out four assists per game. Stephens is the main long range threat, so far hitting nearly 50% of his attempts from beyond the three-point line.

The Wofford roster is heavy with guards. 6-5 junior Greg Taylor is a transfer from the University of South Carolina. He has been starting on one wing, where he is scoring 5.9 ppg and getting 4.6 rebounds per game, but so far not hitting his outside shots. Other guards, all of whom have been getting considerable playing time, are 6-4 senior David Eaton (7.4 ppg and an outside threat), two sophomores (6-2 Byron Fields and 6-1 William Belton), and three freshmen (6-4 Eric Marshall, 6-3 Curtis Ingram, and 6-2 Adam Sheehan).

6-9 junior center Sam Daniels has been handing out almost as many assists as point guard Stephens (4.1 per game), scores 7.6 ppg, and snares 4.4 rebounds per game. The leading rebounder is 6-6 sophomore Howard Wilkerson (6.6 per game), rated by Coach Mike Young as the team's strongest player. He is scoring 9.7 ppg.

The main help underneath for Daniels and Wilkerson comes from 6-9 sophomore center Tyler Berg, a hard-nosed rebounder (4.8 per game) who scores 5.9 ppg. Daniels, Wilkinson, and Berg are all 225-pounders. Other front-liners are 6-7 junior Jeff Tarr and 6-5 freshman Ugo Ihekweazu.

Against Texas, their strongest opponent to date, Wofford trailed 49-32 at halftime, hit eight of 24 three-pointers, and made 40.6% of their shots from the field. They also played well against Tennessee and Clemson. The disappointing showing at Florida A&M was the result of hot shooting by the Rattlers (13-of-25 from three-point territory), and possibly post-exam sluggishness by the Terriers. Wofford, one of the smallest NCAA Division 1 schools, has high academic standards.

Wofford appears to be outmanned by Vanderbilt, as they were by Tennessee, Clemson, and Texas. The Commodores have a lot more experience and much more height. Wofford is another one of those "scrappy" teams that is often able to stay in the game with stronger opponents for a half or more, but then usually falls away. The best hope for a good showing by the Terriers in Nashville is the natural tendency for a major conference team to take a lesser opponent in stride, and the fact that the Vanderbilt players have just gone through exam week. However, this isn't likely to be enough, and a 15-25 point win by the Commodores would seem to be in the cards.

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