NASHVILLE-- The last game before the Christmas break is always dangerous, Kevin Stallings warned his team before the game. But Vanderbilt's men's hoops team, playing its second game in three days, used a balanced scoring attack to run its record to 9-3 Saturday afternoon with a tougher-than-expected 86-77 home win over East Tennessee State.
The Commodores led by 16 in the first half, but ETSU methodically battled back to seize a 47-46 lead with 15 minutes left in the second half. From that point Kevin Stallings' Commodores wore down the shorthanded Buccaneers in a game plagued by fouls. The referees whistled 42 fouls, 23 on ETSU, and the Bucs lost two starters to fouls in the second half. Vanderbilt shot 17-of-28 from the free-throw line to complement a 52.7% effort from the floor.
Five Commodores scored in double figures for the game. Chuck Moore led all scorers with 19 points. Brendan Plavich added 17 (including five 3-pointers); Matt Freije added 15, Brian Thornton 13, and Scott Hundley added 11.
Moore was also very effective on the defensive end, holding the Buccaneers' leading scorer Dimeco Childress to 4-of-16 from the field for 8 points. Childress had been averaging 16.5 points per game.
The Commodores jumped out to a 15-6 lead early in the first half. Brendan Plavich warmed up from 3-point land, hitting two straight 3's to give Vandy a 33-18 lead, which the Commodores later stretched to 36-20. But Coach Ed DeChellis' Buccaneers hit the next 8 points.
When Brian Thornton scored on a wide-open dunk with 3 seconds left in the first half, Vanderbilt thought it would take a 43-33 lead into the locker room. But just as it happened in the Tulane game, the Commodores were victimized by a 50-foot buzzer-beater just as time expired. Tiras Wade's improbable shot cut Vandy's halftime lead to 43-36.
Vandy came out ice-cold at the start of the second half, and the Bucs went to work. A putback shot by the Bucs' 6-foot-6 widebody Jerald Fields gave ETSU a 47-46 lead, its only lead of the second half. The Commodores then reeled off the game's next 10 points, using the transition game to generate open 3-pointers by Sam Howard and Plavich.
ETSU gamely cut the Vandy lead back to 56-54, but a rare 4-point play (3-pointer and foul shot) by Chuck Moore pushed the lead back to 6. The Commodores were able to maintain a lead of 7-12 points for the rest of the game with free-throw shooting by Freije, Thornton and Plavich.
After ETSU's Michael Tolliver completed a three-point play that cut the lead to 79-70 with 1:30 left, the game's outcome was still slightly in doubt. At that point Vandy held the ball for a beautifully executed 35-second possession, with Chuck Moore nailing a 2-pointer as the shot-clock wound down, and the Dores' ninth win of the season was sealed.
Both teams played without their starting point guards. Vandy's Russell Lakey, who continues to recover from a foot injury, dressed but did not play. Meanwhile ETSU did without 6-0 starter Cliff DeCoster, who was also out with an injury.
Vanderbilt hit 11-of-23 from 3-point range for an outstanding 47.8%, led by Brendan Plavich's 5-of-7. ETSU out-rebounded Vandy 41-35-- a disturbing statistic, given the fact the Bucs had no player taller than 6-7.
East Tennessee State's record dropped to 7-4. It was Vandy's second win in a row and its third straight over ETSU-- the Commodores also defeated the Buccaneers 87-76 last season, and 70-55 during the 1999-2000 season.
The Commodores now disperse for a few days for the holidays. Morehead State visits Memorial Gym next Saturday, December 29, at 7:00 p.m., for the Commodores' final non-conference game of the season. The SEC opener is January 5 against Georgia at Athens.