Vandy tops Houston

A small but rowdy crowd of 3,439 watched as Darius Coulibaly and the Vanderbilt Commodores defeated the Houston Cougars in the opening round of the NIT. On a night when both teams struggled in all aspects of shooting, Vanderbilt would come out on top by forcing more turnovers and playing better overall team ball.

Senior Darius Coulibaly, who had not even dressed for the previous two games, started the game and seemed to inspire the Commodores. Coulibably not only inspired his team, he helped it through his aggressive play. In 21 minutes of action the stats for the senior from the Ivory Coast were modest with 7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and 1 steal. Stats don't always tell the whole story. The 7-1 senior created a serious matchup problem for the athletic Cougars. Coulibaly's huge body and enormous arm wingspan disrupted and intimidated Houston. Coulibaly seemed to be daring the opposition to come inside by frequently clapping his hands in a rapid manner while encouraging on his younger team mates.

"I never lost faith in myself. . . the coaches always believed in me. . . I knew somehow, someday that something good would happen. I kept my head up all the time and today was just a good day. I'm thankful for the opportunity and glad to give something back to the fans. Those guys, I love them to death. Since my freshman year they always supported me and cheered me up", said the towering Coulibaly to the media after the game.

The tight Vanderbilt defense held the visiting Cougars from the Conference USA to their lowest first-half output of the year. Vanderbilt led at the half 23-19.

Coulibaly wasn't the only senior that was instrumental in the win. Sam Howard led all scorers with 14 and his late game 3-point shots helped seal the win for the Commodores. Howard made 4 of 6 from 3-point range.

Junior forward Louis Truscott led the Cougars in scoring with 13 points in 38 minutes of play.

Vanderbilt outrebounded Houston 18-16. The Commodores also won the turnover war turning the ball over just 8 times compared to 11 for the Cougars. Vandy registered 17 assists to just 8 for Houston.

Both teams suffered from miserable shooting in the first half. Houston hit just 23% to Vanderbilt's 33%. In the second half Vandy improved their shooting to 44.4% to finish the game with 38.9% from field goal range for the game. Houston fared little better in the second half shooting than in the first and finished with a paltry 30% of field goals made.

Houston finishes the season 16-15. Vanderbilt improves it's record to 17-14.

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