But just when Vanderbilt fans might have breathed a sign of relief, the momentum turned. After a basket by Amy Malo had made the score 22-12, a 13-0 run by the Lady Tigers gave Clemson their first lead of the game at 25-22 with 5:26 left in the half. Jen Risper momentarily stopped the bleeding by hitting the first free throw on a 1&1 opportunity, then hit the second to make the score 25-24.
The respite was only temporary, however. Clemson then scored five straight points to take a 6-point lead at 30-24 with 4:19 left in the first half. In all, over a six-minute span, Clemson staged an 18-2 run, with Vanderbilt's only two points coming from the free throw line.
At this point, Vanderbilt fans watching the game might have wondered, "Okay, who's going to score?" The answer turned out to be "Jessica Mooney". Tina Wirth found her on the perimeter, and she sank the 3-pointer to cut Clemson's lead in half to 30-27.
After a pair of Clemsom free throws, freshman point guard Jence Rhoads stole the ball, took the ball coast to coast, sank the basket, was fouled and hit the free throw to complete the 3-point play. Then a pair of free throws from Wirth tied the game at 32-32 going into the locker room.
Conventional wisdom by television analysts would have predicted a fiery lecture by the head coach in the locker room during the intermission. After all, besides giving up a 10-point lead, as a team, the Dores totaled only two assists with 17 turnovers.
Instead, Head Coach Melanie Balcomb listened to advice from her assistants. "My staff did a good job making the point to me that we had lost a tough game at Indiana State on the road that we shouldn't have lost and we were upset with our effort, and we buried them in practice," she said.
"I know they were really upset about that game and took it to heart, and I think we were just hesitating so much and playing not to lose," she said. "So we tried to really stay positive with them in the locker room and come up with as many things as we could to just support them and tell them that, 'Hey, new start, fresh half, this is what we need to do.' "
Besides the words of encouragement, Balcomb also asked the team to make some adjustments in the second half. "We got out of man [defense]", she said. "We went all zone in the second half, and we did a much better job being patient on offense and executing offenses instead of just running into transition and turning the ball over."
For the first five minutes, the score stayed close, then the Commodores offense began to click, with a 3-pointer by Lauren Lueders with an assist from Sherwood then another 3-pointer by Wirth with an assist from Merideth Marsh.
Clemson Coach Cristy McKinney called timeout, but to no avail. Right afterwards, Lueders hit another 3-pointer with another assist from Marsh. So within less than a minute. Vanderbilt suddenly had a double-digit lead at 49-38 with 14:32 left in the game.
After that, the Lady Tigers were unable to cut the lead back to single digits. The closest they could get was 10 points behind at 56-46 with 6:45 left in the game, but Vanderbilt answered with a basket from Wirth. Clemson never threatened after that and the Commodores went on to claim the 74-56 victory.
With the victory Vanderbilt improves to 3-1 on the season. The Dores return to action on Friday when they host Belmont in the annual Thanksgiving Tournament at 2 p.m., followed by Michigan versus Iowa State at 4 p.m. Then on Sunday the consolation game will take place a noon, followed by the championship game at 2 p.m. All games in the tournament feature free admission.
Photos copyright 2007 by Whitney D for VandyMania.com