Flashback: Lighting up the third digit

100 points. Basketball players love it. Fans really love it. Some teams go for years without topping 100 points, while others actually average more than 100 points per game for an entire season. At Vanderbilt, there was a period of 15 years over which the Commodores routinely topped 100 points, and then some, multiple times per year.

100 points. Basketball players love it. Fans really love it. Some teams go for years without topping 100 points, while others actually average more than 100 points per game for an entire season.

At Vanderbilt, there was a period of 15 years over which the Commodores routinely topped 100 points, and then some, multiple times per year. There are too many to report on all of them, but some of them were memorable. Let's look at those key times when the third scoreboard digit was put to work.

The First Time: Oddly enough, the first time Vandy cracked the century mark, it was Coach Bob Polk's 100th win. The 1954-55 season was the beginning of Vanderbilt's best ever fourteen year span (247-94). This team was loaded with scoring punch led by the black and gold's first big trio. Guards Al Rochelle and Babe Taylor and forward Bobby Thym all enjoyed multiple nights over 20 points. Forward George Nordhaus could sting opponents for a quick 10 to 15 points. Thym and center Charlie Harrison both averaged double figure rebounds, as the Commodores were adept at controlling the boards and running the fast break. The three big scorers were very good foul shooters, who knew how to force an opponent to foul. The resulting scoring boost was aided by a new rule for that season which awarded 1 and 1 shots on every foul (not just following the seventh foul of each half).

After Vandy destroyed Sewanee 88-48 to open the 1954-55 season, Bob Polk sat at 99 career wins. Next up was a home game against the Generals of Washington & Lee. W&L had just given Tennessee a good game in Knoxville before fatigue allowed the Vols to cruise to victory. Coach Polk's game plan was to come out running and continue playing at a brisk pace all night. How up-tempo were the Goldmen that night? How about 102 field goal attempts? 27 General fouls put Vandy at the line for 34 foul shots. Vandy scored only five points in the first four minutes and trailed by three points. Leading 11-10, the scoring onslaught started. Vandy reeled off 15 straight points in the next few minutes. Nordhaus and Thym hit a hot streak, and the lead ballooned to 26 points prior to the half. W & L cut it to 23 with the score 59-36 at the break.

The Commodores played a little sloppy in the final half, but the game was out of hand. They cruised to a 104-88 win, but a scoring drought as their score reached the mid-90's kept them from possibly reaching 115-120. Five players scored in double figures, led by Thym with 27 points. Nordhaus and Rochelle both topped 20 with 21 and 20 respectively. Taylor had 14, and Harrison chipped in 11.

The 1954-55 team went on to finish 16-6, 9-5 in the SEC for third place, and ended the season ranked 17th in the AP poll. It was the highest scoring Vandy team to date, averaging 78 points a game. The 'Dores averaged an astounding 80 field goal attempts and more than 35 free throw attempts per game. The scoring trio averaged 49 points a game, with Taylor leading the way at 17 and Rochelle and Thym scoring 16 a game.

The First Time Against An SEC Team: The 1954-55 team set the stage for a breakout 1955-56 season. The Commodores returned four starters, with Joe "Hobby" Gibbs replacing Nordhaus at one of the forward slots. Gibbs, Thym, and Harrison would become the only starting frontcourt at Memorial Gym to each average double figure rebounding in the same season. With guards Taylor and Rochelle running the fast break as well as any tandem in the nation, Vandy continued to excel at fast-paced basketball. In the first two months of the season, The Commodores raced to a 15-1 record. Many of those wins came about as the result of quick bursts where Vandy would outscore the opponent by 10 to 15 points in a three or four-minute stretch.

At 15-1 (8-0 SEC), Vandy had climbed to lofty heights in the three major polls of that day. The AP and UPI had them at number three, but the INS poll rated them second behind only the great San Francisco Dons, in the middle of a 60-game winning streak and back to back titles with Bill Russell and K.C. Jones.

The bubble burst, as the Commodores lost big to eventual SEC champ Alabama, who ran the table in the SEC. Vandy returned to the friendly confines of Memorial Gym to face LSU, led by the SEC's top point-getter Roger Sigler. The Bengal Tigers had just topped the century mark themselves in a blowout win over Ole Miss. LSU was two games behind Vandy in fourth place, but they came to Nashville on the wrong night. Vandy was stinging mad from the loss to Bama.

The game started slowly, with the score tied at 12-12 six and a half minutes into the game. Vandy then ran off one of their patented spurts, outscoring LSU 18-4 to take a 30-16 lead with 6:30 to play in the half. Then, the real scoring surge started. Rochelle, Thym, and Harrison got hot at once, as Vandy tallied 29 points in the final six minutes and change (remember no 3-point shot or shot clock)! LSU would shoot and miss; Vandy rebounded; and ran the fast break over and over for easy baskets. At the half, the score was 59-38.

After increasing the lead to 24 points, LSU made a brief comeback to cut the lead under 20, before Vandy began their final spurt. They topped the century mark with three minutes to play, and then added three more baskets to win 107-68.

Led by Harrison's 24 rebounds, the Commodores unbelievably grabbed 82 missed shots, out rebounding LSU by 34 boards. Many of the defensive rebounds ended up as fast break lay-ups and short jumpers. All five Commodore starters scored in double figures. Rochelle led the way with 24. Thym had 21. Harrison scored 20 to go with his 24 rebounds. Gibbs chipped in 19, while Taylor, playing after missing practice all week with an illness, contributed 12 points.

The 1955-56 team stayed on Alabama's heels until the last week of the season. The Tide in the process of going 14-0, had made their intention known that they would decline an NCAA tournament bid. They had key players who would be ineligible for the NCAA tourney, as there was a stupid rule in effect in those days that declared ineligible players who had red shirted and gained an extra year of eligibility. So, the second best SEC team would garner the NCAA bid. At 10-1, Vandy led Kentucky by 1 1/2 games after the Cats lost to Alabama. Vandy needed to finish 12-2 to be assured of the bid, but the Commodores lost at Kentucky and at Auburn to finish 11-3/19-4. Kentucky finished second, and Vandy finished third. It was good enough though for the black and gold's first top 10 finish, ending 8th in the UPI and INS, and 11th in the AP.

Next: 100 Points Against The Number One Team In The Nation


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