he Vanderbilt Commodores took a hard-earned 59-50 victory over the Houston Cougars in Nashville in the NIT first round. Surprising performances by Darius Coulibaly and Scott Hundley and a timely three-point performance by Sam Howard highlighted the victory. Tough defense carried the Commodores to victory, as all three SEC teams in the NIT won their opening round games.
The Commodores led almost all the way against the Cougars. Houston took a one point lead midway of the second half, but two three pointers by Howard and an old-fashioned three by Hundley quickly took back a decisive lead. Houston's shots would not fall and the frustrated Cougars got a couple of technical fouls in the closing stages, which certainly did not help their cause. They played without starting guard Kevin Gaines.
Vanderbilt now plays the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs of the Western Athletic Conference. Successful newcomers to that league, the Bulldogs have a 21-9 overall record and went 14-4 in conference play, but lost to Fresno State 72-69 in the first round of the WAC tournament. Louisiana Tech's best wins this year were over league champion Hawaii (61-57), Fresno State twice (71-64 and 66-63), and Nevada twice (77-69 and 86-83). The Bulldogs beat Louisiana-Lafayette 83-63 in their first round NIT game.
Louisiana Tech has two opponents in common with Vanderbilt, winning over Auburn on the road 67-66 and at home over Centenary 68-48, but lost to Centenary on the road 84-71. The Commodores needed a last second three-pointer by Brendan Plavich to beat Centenary 77-75 in Nashville, and they also had a home win over Auburn, 73-67.
The only previous meeting between Vanderbilt and Louisiana Tech came in the NIT, on March 15, 1990. The two teams played in Nashville and the Dores came from behind to win 98-90. Scott Draud, Derek Wilcox, and Eric Reid led the Vanderbilt attack that night to overcome a 31-point effort by guard Reggie Gibbs of Tech.
Coached by Keith Richard, who has compiled a 78-38 record in his four years at Tech, the Bulldogs are led on the court by guard Gerrod Henderson, a 6'4" senior. Henderson is a flashy offensive weapon who can shoot from the outside or take the ball to the basket. With an average of 17.6 ppg, Henderson gets to the free throw line often and makes 81% of his shots from there. He led Tech in scoring seventeen times this year and is considered to be an NBA prospect.
6'5" senior guard Marco Cole is Henderson's usual running mate in back court. Cole (11.4 ppg) is steadier than Henderson, although not as much of a scoring threat, and is also a mixture of outside shooter and driver. Michael Wilder, 6'2" junior transfer from Chipola JC is another guard who sees a lot of playing time, averaging 7.6 ppg.
Two wing players who see a lot of action are 6'5" junior Darrian Brown (10.1 ppg) and 6'4" junior Lavelle Fulton (6.6 ppg). Fulton, like Wilder, transferred in from Chipola JC.
Tech has two tall 245-pound inside players who start. 6'8" Antonio Meeking (10.2 ppg) and 6'10" Zach Johnson (6.9 ppg) normally do most of the heavy rebounding work, but Johnson did not play in the Louisiana-Lafayette game.
Two other players who see some action are both freshmen, 6'2" Bruce Edwards (2.0 ppg), and 6'9" Wayne Powell (1.4 ppg).
Louisiana Tech is a tough, hard-nosed team that was good enough to take Oklahoma, second-seeded in the NCAA, to overtime in Norman OK before losing 71-67. Most of their points come on drives to the basket or on the inside, the Bulldogs averaging just five of 15 three-pointers per game.
The key to victory for Vanderbilt would appear to be to keep Henderson under control and not allow Meeking and Cole to make up the difference. Henderson seems to be an ideal subject for Chuck Moore's defensive stopper talents.
Men's Hoops: Vanderbilt vs La Tech preview
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