The Commodores struggled through a difficult offensive performance, but still managed to put away a pesky Appalachian State squad 63-48 despite just five points from senior Matt Freije, who entered the game as the SEC's leading scorer at 22 points per game.
"On a night when our best player was not our best player, the other guys on our team responded admirably," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings.
Vanderbilt is now 9-0 for the first time since the 1973-74 team went 10-0 on its way to the SEC championship. It is ranked in the Top 25 (at No. 25) for the first time since Feb. 21, 2000. And it has eight days before it will return to the court against Lehigh.
"When we went to Michigan last year, we weren't ready to play," said Mario Moore, referring to a disappointing 70-66 loss in the game before Christmas break. "Everyone was ready to go home and was ready for Christmas and Santa coming to town. This time, we were more locked in. We were going to wait on Santa."
The Commodores were certainly locked in on defense, limiting the Mountaineers to just 33 percent shooting for the game. Julian Terrell (right) had six of Vanderbilt's seven blocked shots, and the Dores forced 21 turnovers.
Offensively, however, it was a different story. Moore scored 19 points (after not starting because of what Stallings called an internal issue), and Scott Hundley had 10 on 4-for-4 shooting, but that was it for the pretty numbers. Vanderbilt shot 3-for-18 from three, none of the starters scored in double-figures, and the Dores did not crack the 40 percent field goal barrier in either half.
"We just weren't in synch because we had some guys that weren't performing like we are accustomed to them performing, and we were turning the ball over too much, and they scatter the game defensively," Stallings said. "Most of their games do not have a lot of flow to them."
Vanderbilt was in control for most of the game, but a 10-0 Appalachian State run cut the lead to 55-48 with 4:42 to play. Moore responded with two free throws and a three, and the Mountaineers (5-7) did not score again.
"We had a couple of costly turnovers late in the game, and Vanderbilt is a team that makes you pay," said ASU coach Houston Fancher. "They're very effective. Vanderbilt's an NCAA Tournament team, no doubt."
"We've got to have a team effort to win," Moore said. "When he (Freije) has a bad night, the other guys have to step up and get the job done. Some guys did that tonight."
Stallings called the Top 25 ranking "meaningless in terms of the season," but said, "I'm happy with our togetherness, our toughness, our chemistry. I'm happy with a lot of things that make you a good basketball team."
A Top 25 basketball team.
Bill Trocchi is the online editor at Athlon Sports.
Photos by Neil Brake for Associated Press.
Vanderbilt Head Coach Kevin Stallings
On the overall team effort...
"I thought our team played extremely well defensively on a night when we weren't our best offensively. Appalachian State has something to do with that. They create difficult matchups for us. I'm happy with the win tonight.
On Julian Terrell...
"He really played very physical and very tough. He gave us a presence in the middle that we really needed. I thought he played a great game."
On being 9-0...
"Yes, I'm absolutely thrilled to be where we are right now. I'm proud of the players. They deserve the attention and the credit for being undefeated. I'm happy with our overall chemistry, our togetherness and our toughness."
Sophomore guard Mario Moore
On coming of the bench...
"I just tried to provide a spark to the team. I was watching the game, trying to see where I could help."
On Freije's off night...
"We've got to have a team effort to win. When he (Freije) has a bad night and other guys have to step up and get the job done. Some guys did that tonight."
Sophomore forward Julian Terrell
On the game...
"A win is a win right now. I'll take them any way I can."
On whether ASU's defense caused Vanderbilt's offense rhythm... "No. It was just us. We came out unprepared. We have to come out and take care of it on our own."
Appalachian State Head Coach Houston Fancher
"I thought tonight was the most physical game we have played all year. Vanderbilt is so strong and so physical. They bring some big bodies at you, and they're very deep."
"Not one time did I look on the floor and see a team that I thought was out of the game. I always saw five guys out there competing and fighting like they knew we'd come back any second. We had a couple of costly turnovers late in the game, and Vanderbilt is a team that makes you pay. They're very effective. Vanderbilt's an NCAA Tournament team, no doubt, so I give my kids a lot of credit -- after that last game (against Tenn. Tech), we could've come in here and been blown out, but our guys hung with them."