"All in all, I was very pleased with our effort and the way we played," pretty much summed up Head Coach Kevin Stallings feelings after a 85-57 victory over American University (3-6) at Memorial Gymnasium.
While a 28 point win by an SEC team over a Patriot League squad might seem unremarkable to some, Stallings saw something this squad has been missing for the majority of the season, intensity. Vanderbilt's intensity level has rarely reached the levels needed to convincingly put away mid-major squads, but it was clear from the opening possession that this night was different.
Vanderbilt (8-3) led 12-0 before the game was four minutes old, and pushed the lead out to 23-5 with 11:52 to go in the half. The defensive intensity, which had been dormant since the first half against Western Kentucky, was too much for the Eagles early in the half, but American bounced back to cut the lead to two points almost two minutes before the half.
Vanderbilt turned the intensity up once again in the second half, when another strong start put the game out of reach, maintaining leads of twenty-plus points for the most part. The lead was built on steady defense and torrid shooting of 65%.
American Coach Jeff Jones noted, "Vanderbilt is a good shooting team and really stretch you defensively. If you make a mistake defensively, they will make you pay."
Vanderbilt was led in scoring by sophomore Matt Freije, who finished with 22 points on 7 of 9 shooting. "Practice has been rough," reflected Freije in his post game press conference. Since the loss to Tulane ten days ago, the majority of practice time has been spent working on defense and instilling a mindset in the youthful squad, and the message appeared to have been received, as Vandy broke the habit of playing to the level of its competition.
Despite the improvements, the Commodores gave the coaching staff reasons for concern. The most obvious problem was 21 turnovers for the game. Though American employed an aggressive defensive style overplaying the passing lanes, Vanderbilt was quite careless with the ball during stretches. Also, rebounding continues to be a problem. Vanderbilt won the rebounding battle by four, but desperately needed more rebounds from its starting frontcourt, which finished the game with a combined six rebounds.
After a long layoff before the American game, Vanderbilt must quickly turn around to play East Tennessee State University at Memorial Gym on Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
Scoring -- Matt Freije, 22
Rebounding -- Scott Hundley, 6
Assists -- Brendan Plavich and Sam Howard, 4
Steals -- Brendan Plavich, 4
Minutes -- Chuck Moore, 31
Blocks -- Howlerda, 2