Vanderbilt was in the midst of a rebuilding effort under Coach Roy Skinner, who had replaced Bob Polk after the 1960-61 season (Skinner had coached in an acting role for the ailing Polk in the 1958-59 season). The Commodores came into this game with a record of 0-2 in the SEC and 6-6 overall (a December win at home over Alabama did not count in the SEC standings). The Commodore starting lineup consisted of John Russell and Bobby Bland at the guards, Jerry Hall and Bob Scott at the forwards, and Ron Griffiths in the post. This would be Hall's first start (Hall's son Dan played for the Commodores in the early 1990's).
Hall made his first start a memorable one. He joined Russell in an early scoring binge, as Vandy broke out of the gate like a speedball. Coach Skinner tried a tactic he would use several times in his 16-year tenure at Vandy; he substituted five players for five players throughout the night. The second five composed of Bill Johnson, Bob Burton, Ray Clark, Lance Gish, and Sam Hosbach came in and wore down the Bulldogs' regulars. Vandy's lead blossomed quickly to double digits, and the Commodores held onto that lead the rest of the night, defeating the number one team in the nation 100-86. Russell led the effort with 23 points. Hall tallied 21; Scott added 17; Bland totaled 12; and Johnson scored 10 in reserve. Vandy's pressure defenses held State to under 34% shooting, and only a fine 34 made free throws allowed the Bulldogs to avoid a blowout. Vandy hit 34 of 75 for 45.3% and sank 32 foul shots.
Clyde's Final Memorial Gym Win: Nearing the final two weeks of the 1965-66 season Vanderbilt found itself sitting with a record of 19-3, 10-2 in the SEC. Ranked number five in the polls, The Commodores already knew they wouldn't be returning to the NCAA tournament. Kentucky, at 12-0/21-0 owned two wins over Vandy and would have to lose three of its last four. Two of those four included very weak Tulane and Ole Miss squads, which were not going to come within 20 points of the number one team.
Vanderbilt had nothing to lose as Georgia came to Memorial Gym. Vandy had handily beaten the Bulldogs in Athens a month earlier, so the players were confident that this game would be another easy win. Bulldog coach Ken Rosemond was a former Dean Smith assistant at North Carolina. Like his mentor's teams in Chapel Hill, Georgia entered the game comfortably leading the SEC in field goal percentage at 50%.
Vandy's starting lineup in 1966 included Bo Wyenadt and Ron Green at forward, Keith Thomas and Jerry Southwood at guard, and all-American Clyde Lee at center. Lee and Thomas combined for over 40 points a game with Wyenadt the other double figure scorer.
It wasn't Georgia that looked like the best shooting team in the league--it was Vandy. The Commodores blazed the nets led by Green. The senior from Miami quickly scored seven points in the game's first two minutes on his way to 19 first half points. Keith Thomas and super sub Wayne Calvert took some of the heat off Green in the final 10 minutes of the first half, as they caught fire. Clyde didn't have to do much but rebound and pass to Southwood who directed the fast break. Vandy took a 56-41 lead into the locker at the half.
In the second stanza, Lee and Wyenadt joined in the fun with hot hands. Vandy kept scoring points in rapid succession, and Georgia began matching them point-for-point. The NBA couldn't offer this much excitement. Vandy reached triple digits with more than five minutes to go, as it was obvious a new record for scoring would be set. The Goldmen pumped in 17 more points in the final five minutes, winning 117-97.
Vandy hit an amazing 63.2% on 48-76 shooting. They went 21-29 at the foul line for 72.4%. Georgia connected on 44.4% on 36-81 and 25-34 at the line. The Commodores dominated the game on the boards, winning the battle 53-33. Leading the way was Green with 24 points and 13 boards, while Lee added 21 points and 15 rebounds. Also in double figures were Wyenadt with 20, Thomas with 19, and Calvert with 14.
Vandy slaughtered LSU and Tulane on the road before Mississippi State upset them on Clyde Lee Day, ending the season at 22-4.
A New High: The 1968-69 season was a disappointing one for the Commodores and their fans. Halfway through the year, the record stood at 5-1 in the SEC and 11-3 overall. Vandy had beaten some strong clubs, including North Carolina State, Kansas State, Southern Cal, and in the league, they went to Gator Alley and upset Neal Walk and his Florida Gators. To that point, the Commodore record in the past 5 1/2 seasons was 117-28. Things quickly changed. Vandy had problems with turnovers, and nobody other than Tom Hagan could shoot the ball through the hoop. Six consecutive losses doomed the Commodores into the lower division. A late win over Kentucky ensured a winning season, and the Commodores closed out the campaign in Starkville against Mississippi State.
Vandy had already scored 108 points on the Bulldogs in Nashville. State was the last place team in scoring defense. Vandy's offense had returned after the six-game slide, as the Commodores had averaged 82 points a game since.
Coach Skinner started Perry Wallace at center, Thorpe Weber at forward, and a three-guard tandem of Ralph Mayes, Rudy Thacker, and Tom "Tommy Gun" Hagan. By this point of the season, the only reserves seeing action were Van Oliver, Les Yates, Dave Richardson, and Vietnam veteran Rick Cammarata.
The first half was a typical one for Vandy that year. There were too many turnovers, and Vandy let State keep the game close. Hagan only scored one bucket in the first 14 minutes. In the final six minutes of the first half, he began to warm up, and so did the 'Dores. Hagan connected on four consecutive shots to end the half with 10 points. Vandy led 48-41.
The second half became the "Feed Hagan" game. Tommy Gun simply went out and hit eight more in a row (making it 12 straight) before finally missing. He kept firing and scored 34 second half points, while Vandy scored 72 as a team to win 120-83. Hagan's 44 points set a school record, and his final season average of 23.4 still stands as the high-water mark at Vandy. Five other Commodores joined Hagan in double figures, led by Wallace with 20, Mayes with 17, Weber with 14, Thacker with 12, and Oliver with 10. Three 'Dores recorded double doubles, as Weber pulled down 17 rebounds, and Wallace and Hagan added 10 each.
120 Points Not The Record For Long: Just one season later, the Commodores eclipsed the 120-point margin against lowly Portland. The Pilots were terribly out-manned by a Vandy team that looked to them like sequoia trees. Starting center Steve Turner was 7-04. Thorpe Weber was 6-08, and Perry Wallace was 6-05 but could jump high enough to touch the top of the board. On the bench, Van Oliver and Chris Schweer both looked like Charles Atlas. Little Portland had no big man who could take these brutes on. Vandy quickly ran away from the Pilots and coasted into the locker room up 57-32 at the half. The second half was like watching UCLA play Cal St. Los Angeles during the Walton days, as Vandy increased the lead to 50 points and breezed to a 124-73 victory.
Rebounding once again set the pace, as the black and gold won the battle of the boards 65-38. This led to dozens of fast break points. Wallace led the way with 23 points, while Turner had his first great game for the Commodores with 19 points and nine boards. Sophomore guard Tom Arnholt, who once scored 51 points in a Vandy freshman game, also scored 19. Weber recorded a double double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Two reserves hit for double figures. Schweer popped in 12, while Oliver added 10. Many of these points came on offensive put backs.
The Coup De Grace: How could 124 points last less than one year as the record? Even with today's three-point shot and 35-second clock, few teams score 100 points, much less 125. Few teams have a Roy Skinner as their coach. On this date in 1970 (I am writing this on Wednesday, December 22), Vanderbilt and Ole Miss knocked heads in Memorial gym just before the holiday break. The Rebels were led by a sophomore guard who threatened to break Pete Maravich's scoring records just one year after the Pistol graduated LSU. Johnny Neumann came into this game scoring points at a 42.4 per game clip. The 6-06 forward from Memphis was too tempting to turn down. Even three days before December 25, a sold out crowd of 15,500+ turned out for the game. We all got our money's worth, and then some.
I can tell you personally that I tried to keep the individual scoring that night, and it was impossible, especially in the second half. The action was so fast that the two officials couldn't stay in their proper positions.
Vandy had started a new lineup just two games earlier. Coach Skinner had removed Steve Turner, who was struggling, as starting center and Tom Arnholt, who was being used as instant offense off the bench. Both Skinner and Turner had received several boos from the crowd, especially from the student section, as the Commodores were struggling. The new lineup featured Van Oliver at center, Thorpe Weber and Rod Freeman at forwards, and Ralph Mayes and Rudy Thacker at guards.
After a fantastic freshman team win over the Baby Rebels, led by the fantastic four (Compton, Ligon, Fowler, VBK), the varsity game tipped off a few minutes late. Neumann was unstoppable. Repeatedly, he broke free from pressure to get open for shots. The Rebels scored on almost every possession for a 12-minute segment in the first half. Joining Neumann with a hot hand was former Perry County (Linden, TN) High School standout Dave Rhodes (the older brother of Mike Rhodes). Vandy wasn't as hot from the field, but numerous offensive rebounds allowed them to stay in the game. Ole Miss scored 60 points in the first half, but only led by six.
The 114 total points scored in the first half were nothing compared to the last 20 minutes. The scoreboard changed every five or so seconds for a good part of the half. Coach Skinner played 12 players, with 12th man Ray Maddux coming off the bench to excel for the first time. Rarely does a 12th player record a double double. Maddux would quickly move up the charts and become a starter within a year. He's the only Commodore to have his father (Ed) and a son (Drew) also play basketball at Vanderbilt.
Vandy still trailed by three at 71-68 five minutes into the second half. At this point, the press paid dividends. Over the next few minutes, Vandy scored 19 straight points to go ahead 87-71. Ole Miss hit on some foul shots, but the Rebels went seven minutes without a field goal. Meanwhile, The Commodores reached 100 with 7:12 left to play!
Ole Miss mounted a challenge and topped 100 points with four minutes left, but Vandy kept scoring. The year-old mark of 124 fell, and the black and gold added six more for good measure, winning 130-112!
The star of the game was the Rebels' Neumann, who set a Memorial Gym scoring record that stands to this day. He scored 53 points on 23-49 shooting plus seven free throws. Rhodes contributed 19.
Vandy had seven double figure scorers. Oliver led with 24 points and added 15 rebounds. Maddux's double double consisted of 16 points and 16 rebounds, giving the tandem 40 points and 31 boards. Weber scored 18 points, while Freeman added 16 and Thacker and Arnholt each had 15.
The team totals were mind-boggling. Vandy took 101 shots and hit 52 for 51.5%, while Ole Miss was 48-95 for 50.5%. The Commodores foul shooting was terrific, finishing 26-30 for 86.7%. Ole Miss was only 16-30 for just 53.3%. This was one of Vandy's best rebounding teams, and they won the battle of the boards by 17 at 64-47.
Rebounding And The Fast Break
As can be seen in all of these high scoring games, it was rebounding and the fast break which produced these 3-digit figures. Picking off a board or turnover and cashing in on a quick basket has always been the most potent weapon in basketball, at every level of play. Vanderbilt showed signs of using this weapon against Central Michigan. The full-court press and tenacious half-court pressure defense produced the rebounding opportunities. After the Chippewas cut the deficit to 10, the Vandy fast break came to life. For a few possessions, Vandy looked like a team from the Roy Skinner days. CMU failed to score on any of the possessions where Vandy used the 2-2-1 zone press. When Corey Smith picked off a pass underneath and fired the long outlet pass which ended in an open three-point attempt for Dan Cage, the anticipation from the sparse crowd was just like it used to be in the 1960's. Real Memorial Magic is waiting to be re-born. I believe the 2-2-1 will succeed at Vandy and automatically push the players into playing harder and more aggressively. It worked for the Pistons last year, and in today's absence of great ball handling, it will work in the SEC.
Note: Some statistics for this story came from the Nashville Tennessean and Nashville Banner.
Next Week: The 1965-66 team moves to number two in the polls, including the classic game featuring Clyde Lee and Syracuse's Dave Bing.