This game disappointed Commodore fans for many reasons. Vanderbilt allowed Tech to shoot over 60% from the field, including 6 for 9 shooting from downtown. The Commodores were out-rebounded 35-18. Vanderbilt's centers, Ted Skuchas and Davis Nwankwo, combined for zero points, zero rebounds, and four fouls in 32 minutes of play. Mario Moore's on-the-court woes continued, as he was held to two points on four shots in his 18 minutes of playing time. Dan Cage executed perfectly in the first half, hitting three of his four three point shots, but was on the bench for almost all of the second half.
Derrick Byars also shot well in the first half, but suffered what appeared to be a jammed finger on his shooting hand – his middle and ring fingers were taped together through the rest of the game.
The Commodores lost this tough, physical game because they did not execute well enough when it came to the keys of the game. The first key for the Commodores was to play with defensive intensity and disrupt Anthony Morrow. The ‘Dores failed to disrupt Morrow's game, and had several defensive breakdowns in the post in the first half. Down the stretch, after Vanderbilt managed to tie the game with several minutes remaining, the Yellow Jackets simply outworked and outplayed the Commodores, as Vanderbilt was unable to get a defensive stop.
Vanderbilt's second key to the game was to force Georgia Tech into "freshman mistakes." While Tech did give up 22 turnovers, few were the result of freshman errors. Vanderbilt also turned the ball over 16 times, including several that resulted in fast break opportunities. Vanderbilt, as a team, hurt themselves even more by allowing 11 offensive rebounds. Georgia Tech's lack of experience was not evident when Vanderbilt implemented their half-court offense – the offense was often too sluggish to cause any defensive mistakes by the Jackets.
The third key to a Commodore victory was to cause foul trouble for Zam Fredrick and Jeremis Smith, and in this respect the ‘Dores succeeded. Fredrick and Smith each collected their fourth foul and had to leave the game while the outcome was still in question. This is even more notable because the physical game was officiated rather loosely.
Finally, the Commodores needed to get Foster and Byars to click on offense, and they hoped to regain their shooting touch. Byars' injury to his shooting hand prevented him from having a big impact in the second half, but Vanderbilt fans saw flashes of both players throughout the game. Byars was held to 10 points and 2 rebounds, but Shan Foster scored 19 points despite 3-13 3pt shooting as he tried to carry the Commodores down the stretch. Foster was able to get many open looks for three point shots – those shot opportunities were some of the only offensive bright spots for the ‘Dores. As a team, Vanderbilt made only 23% of their 13 second half three point shots, and they missed 5 of their 11 free throw chances. Even down to the one minute mark, the entire difference in the game could be explained by missed Commodore freethrows – notably, Derrick Byars was 0-2, and Mario Moore missed the front end of a 1-and-1.
The Yellow Jackets earned the win by playing with exceptional intensity. Post players Jeremis Smith, Theodis Tarver, and Ra'Sean Dickey were able to limit Vanderbilt to 8 points in the paint in the first half. The Yellow Jacket perimeter players contributed on defense by creating disasterous turnovers – Georgia Tech finished the game with 8 fast break points, while Vanderbilt had zero.
While the loss to Georgia Tech stings, Vanderbilt fans don't need to predict gloom and doom after they finish the non-conference schedule 9-2. For one thing, the game was much closer than the score would indicate. Vanderbilt was only down by 1 point with 7:30 left in the game, and the final margin of 9 points was Georgia Tech's largest lead of the game. Vanderbilt did not make a field goal in the last two minutes of the game. Second, Julian Terrell and Shan Foster demonstrated poise, leadership, and consistent performance throughout the game. Those two players can be counted on to form a reliable core for the Commodores, along with Derrick Byars. The Commodores handled another loud road environment very well, and showed the ability to beat a quality opponent away from Memorial without hitting more than their fair share of three pointers. Both teams played well in this hard-fought game, and the Commodores seem to be on the verge of their best basketball. All that stands between this Vanderbilt team and their goals is an underachieving offense characterized by occasional sloppiness and frequent sluggishness.
On Saturday, the Commodores will begin SEC play against the Auburn Tigers in Nashville. According to sources near the team, revenge for last year's loss in the SEC tournament will definitely be a factor as the ‘Dores prepare this week. Hopefully, the Yellow Jackets will be the fire that helps to forge the Commodores into a cohesive unit on both sides of the ball – on Saturday, Vanderbilt fans nationwide will find out.
Vanderbilt's DeMarre Carroll, center, battles Georgia Tech's Anthony Morrow, left, and Jeremis Smith for a loose ball during the first half of a college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2006, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)