Commodores try for a 'Perfect 10' vs. Lehigh

The Vanderbilt men's basketball team winds up a nine-game homestand Tuesday vs. Lehigh. The 22nd-ranked Commodores (9-0) hope to stay unbeaten vs. Coach Billy Taylor's Mountain Hawks (6-4). Tipoff is at 7 p.m. (no TV, 650 WSM-AM radio). VeeMan fills VandyMania readers in regarding Lehigh, and makes his game prediction.

Vanderbilt's ninth consecutive win of the season, the Monday before Christmas, came at the expense of Appalachian State, 63-48. It was by no means the Commodores' most impressive showing of the year. Matt Freije had easily his worst game of the season, the team's shooting was off, and Appalachian proved to be a spirited opponent. Mario Moore led Vanderbilt in scoring with 19 points; Scott Hundley had ten, and shot a perfect 4-for-4 from the field. Julian Terrell came back from sitting out the Wofford game to score eight points, grab nine rebounds, and block six shots.

Lehigh comes into the Vanderbilt game with a record of 6-4. The Mountain Hawks have defeated SUNY-Stonybrook, Swarthmore, Harvard (88-79), Columbia (60-57), Delaware Valley, and Dartmouth (60-57). Their losses are to Long Island, Sacred Heart, Connecticut (75-55), and SUNY-Albany. At their level they are a competent team that went 16-12 last season. Billy Taylor is credited with doing an outstanding job in 2002-03 in his first year as head coach at Lehigh.

The leading scorer for the Hawks is 6-1 freshman Jose Olivero (12.6 ppg), who played high school ball in the Washington, D.C. area. He scored 17 points against Connecticut. The man who plays the most minutes is the team leader, 6-1 senior guard Austin Rowland (12.2 ppg), who easily tops the team in assists (3.9 per game) and even finds time to average 4.6 rebounds.

Lehigh may start three guards, and the third is 5-11 senior Ra Tiah (8.1 ppg). Tiah, Olivero, and 5-11 sophomore Mitch Gilfillan (3.0 ppg) are the leading outside shooting threats, and all three are outstanding free-throw shooters. Another guard who sees plenty of action is 6-4 freshman Kyle Neptune (4.9 ppg), who "has a knack for getting to the basket," according to Blue Ribbon Yearbook.

6-7 junior forward Earl Nurse is the leading rebounder (6.5 per game) and scores 7.2 ppg. He is a muscular 230-pounder from Miami, Fla. Playing at the low post is 6-8 junior Dayne Mickelson, who averages and rebounds an identical figure (5.4 per game).

Lehigh usually plays 11 or 12 men in each game. The others are 6-9 sophomore Michael Fischman (3.3 ppg), 6-5 junior Nick Monserez (3.9 ppg), 6-4 sophomore Kevin Tempest (1.5 ppg), 6-4 senior Steve Callahan (2.6 ppg), and 6-10 freshman Jason Magebroff (3.1 ppg). Monserez usually starts.

Lehigh has experience in Rowland, Tiah, Monserez, Mickelson, Nurse, and Callahan. Mickelson, Tischman, Nurse, and Magebroff provide reasonable height.

Lehigh and Vanderbilt have played once before, Nov. 30, 1987 in Nashville. It was a shootout which Vanderbilt won 102-91 even though two Lehigh players scored 30 or more points. Vanderbilt went on to play in the NCAA tournament that year, beating Utah State and Pittsburgh to make the Sweet Sixteen.

Of course Vanderbilt has a big advantage in size and experience. But Lehigh has a lot of respectable shooters, and the game could be a high-scoring affair similar to the 1987 meeting. Expect Vanderbilt to win by 12-20 points. Top Stories