Over the next ten minutes, neither team could gain the upper hand, and then, with AIA leading 23-20, the Commodores got their second scare of the half. With 8 minutes left in the half, Ashley McElhiney and Jenni Benningfield collided, and McElhiney fell to the court in obvious pain. A hushed Memorial Gym watched as the tough little point guard lay on the court for several minutes until she finally was able to leave the court under her own power.
When play resumed, AIA scored again, to build their lead to 25-20 and Chantelle Anderson picked up her second foul of the half and headed for the bench for the remainder of the half. With the Commodores trailing by five points, both starting guards on the bench with injuries, a third guard on the bench with a suspension, and the pre-season SEC Player of the Year on the bench with foul trouble, the question "Who is going to score for Vanderbilt?" hung in the air.
The answer was Jenni Benningfield, who put up seven straight points for the Commodores. After her 3-pointer cut the AIA lead to only two points, Vanderbilt's prospects suddenly brightened as McElhiney and Hager returned to the game. And even better, sophomore forward Ashley Earley, who was just cleared to play after rehabilitating from a torn ACL, entered the game for Vanderbilt and within a minute was diving on the floor for loose balls.
Hager and McElhiney scored the Commodores' final eight points of the half, and the teams headed to the locker room with Vanderbilt holding a 37-33 lead.
Chantelle Anderson, who was held to only 3 first-half points, returned to action in the second half and scored the first five Commodore points of the half. Jenni Benningfield's layup with 15;20 remaining gave Vanderbilt their biggest lead of the night at 48-37. AIA was able to cut the Commodores' lead to 3 points on several occasions, but could never reclaim the lead, and when the final buzzer sounded, the Commodores claimed a 79-73 victory.
Vanderbilt was led in scoring by Chantelle Anderson with 24 points, followed by Hillary Hager with 17, and Jenni Benningfield with 16. Anderson's 12 rebounds gave her a double-double for the night, but no other Commodore grabbed more than 3 boards. Former Wisconsin Badger Katie Voigt led AIA with 21 points and 9 boards, and Marica Maddox, a recent Georgia State graduate, added 15.
For the game, Vanderbilt shot 50.9% from the field, 41.2% from 3-point range, and 81.8% from the free throw line. AIA also shot well, hitting 53.6% of the shots from the field, including a blistering 60% from 3-point range, but only hit 1 of 5 free throws.
Next action for the Commodores is the second dress rehearsal of the season in the form of an exhibition game against the Reebok All-Stars on Sunday, November 10, at 2 p..m Athletes in Action continue on their fall tour, with 14 games in the next 18 days.
The Press: Coach, how long did it take you to get your heart out of your throat when Mac went down?
Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb: : To be honest with you, it was a couple of times. As you see, there's no depth at the guard spots, so when Hillary went down, and then Mac went down, it got a little scary because we were running out of players
The Press: What happened to Mac?
Coach Balcomb: She got hit in the head, and she had really blurred vision at the time, and a lot of pain in her head. I think her head hit Jenni Benningfield's head. And she couldn't remember a lot at the time. She was really hurting. Yeah, it was very scary. And Hillary has a golf ball over her eye. For her to come back and play as strong as she did, it was really good. I was really impressed with how she came back.
The Press: Can you comment on the play when Ashley & Chantelle were both out of the game?
Coach Balcomb: Were they both at one time? Oh yeah, when Ashley was hurt and Chantelle was out. I think it's just tough for the other players; they haven't been in that position before. We have a walk-on point guard backing up Ashley McElhiney, and I thought Erica did a nice job, but she's better when Mac goes to the off-guard, so I thought she was better when she had Ashley out there with her. I think that really helped her confidence. That's somebody playing the point that's never played a college game in her career yet.
The Press: Are we going to see Mac at the 2?
Coach Balcomb: It depends on how Erica develops. Again, Erica's not even a recruited Division I athlete, but she's a great kid with a great heart and has stepped in and I thought did a really nice job. Where we got in trouble was they posted her up on the other end of the floor, she's so small. But when they went to zone, I wanted to try to get Mac some shots and try to get her at the 2.
The Press: Is your game plan for the season to play more on the perimeter?
Coach Balcomb: No. They had everybody in the paint. They had four people guarding Chantelle, so we've gotta take shots from the perimeter. We're going to have to have people step up and take perimeter shots to get Chantelle Anderson open. Right now, they're not guarding the perimeter because they're just packing it in on Chantelle. Four people are guarding her.
The Press: Considering how close the game was at the end, and you had to play a long spell without Chantelle, this is about as close as you can get to a real game situation early, isn't it? Are you happy with that?
Coach Balcomb: We hadn't even scrimmaged yet against each other except for one little short thing, so this is very very early in the process, and there are so many things that we haven't put in yet that we were trying to execute, especially defensively.
The Press: Can you talk about things you saw that you liked, and things that need work?
Coach Balcomb:Defense is going to need to work. I don't think we did a good job stopping the drive, and I think they got too many uncontested 3-point shots. I also think the positive was -- we're not deep, obviously with nine scholarship players, and Ashley Earley was a bright spot-- she didn't get cleared until right before the game coming off knee surgery, and she got to play. I think that was a huge bright spot for us that she's going to be able to play. I think it's also a bright spot that everybody that got in was ready to play mentally. Nobody went out there that did not help us, and that was really nice to see in the first game with first game jitters and a lot of players that do not have much experience that were on the floor.
The Press:Ashley got cleared right before the game?
Coach Balcomb:Yes, we found out yesterday we could definitely play her. This is ahead of schedule. She was not supposed to play yet, and then she got cleared, which is really good. She was diving on loose balls, and I thought she gave us good energy when she came in, gave us a spark off the bench every time she came in.
The Press: How do you think that your team executed that go fast to go slow transition game that you're looking for?
Coach Balcomb:Well, I talked about the defense we need to improve, but we definitely need to improve on the offense in transition. It's just that the mentality's not there yet. We keep standing and looking and looking and then running. We had a lot of opportunities in transition to take advantage and get some good shots, and we didn't. We looked to just pull it out and run the offense. It's going to take a while for that mentality to change a little bit.
The Press: Do you want to comment on your first victory?
Coach Balcomb:It doesn't count. These games don't count. These to me are just practice games, and they're great film work for the team, and it's nice that the first ones don't count.
The Press: Considering that they don't count, what did you think of the crowd?
Coach Balcomb:I thought it was great for an exhibition game. I don't what the crowd was, but for an exhibition game it was the best I've had, but I haven't coached an SEC team before. I was pleased that a lot of people came out this early.
Asst Dir for Media Relations Tammy BoclairNo cameras, please. I had to promise that there would be no cameras in here (as Hillary Hager walked in with a ice bag over her left eye). (Laughter)
The Press:Hillary -- what happened?
Vanderbilt junior guard Hillary Hager: Well, I hit it on the floor. I don't know how I landed on the floor, but somehow my feet got knocked out from under me, and I hit the floor.
The Press: Mac, what happened?
Vanderbilt senior guard Ashley McElhiney: Jenni and I were trying to run the offense, and we were on the opposite side of the ball, and Jenni went to crash, and I'm not sure how -- she has a knot right here on her cheekbone. I'm not sure how she hit me, but our heads hit.
The Press: Chantelle, you looked kind of shaken up when Mac was down.
Vanderbilt senior center Chantelle Anderson: :Ohmigosh. That was like the scariest moment.
Mac:It's always scary when you get in hit in the head. It happened to me sophomore year. I had a concussion.
Chantelle: And especially it being Mac -- she's so tough that you know that if she's staying down on the ground, she's hurting, so that made me nervous even more.
The Press: No concussion this time?
Mac: No, just headache.
The Press: What did you guys think of the overall performance?
Chantelle: It was very messy. We didn't run the offense very well, but then again, we've been practicing it for what -- 2 and a half weeks? Everything is completely new, so it makes sense that we'd be a little confused. We picked it up second half. Everybody was pretty nervous first half. Then we kind of settled down a little bit. So the second half was better execution-wise.
The Press: What are the significant changes in your offense from last to this?
Chantelle: Well, it's just a whole new offense -- totally different plays and different spots.
Mac: We still have the backdoor options, hat's still in the offense, and that was part of it last year, but we still have improvements to make on running the floor and then getting into our halfcourt set. That's the difference. Last year we were half court, this year we're both.
The Press: Will you be ready in time for league play?
Chantelle: Of course.
The Press: Ashley, as you look back over the course of the game, do you feel like there were some opportunities in transition to push the ball that you should have?
Mac: Yeah, and that just comes from just being used to it. It's not so much of a habit yet. It's not drilled in our heads like it should be. And we forget to run the floor sometimes, and I think one of the main times we forgot to run the floor is when they went zone. We were running back with them and setting up in half court, and coach has stressed that she still wants us to run our transition offense, and then if the quick shot's not there, then run our offense
The Press: Hillary, it looks like you have really stepped up your game. Can you talk about that?
Hillary: They worked with me a lot on my 3 point shot and I think that needed to improve a lot. I had a lot of room for improvement, and that's what I've been focusing on and that opens up the drive.
The Press: :Do you think this style suits you better than the previous style?
Hillary: I think both styles are pretty good, but I guess feel more comfortable with this.
The Press: Ashley, what do you think about playing the offguard position?
Mac: I'm not totallly used to it yet because it's only been 2 and a half weeks that I've been doing it. Of course I'm most comfortable at the point guard position. That's all I've played, and that's where I like to be, but if I have to run the 2, I will.
The Press: Chantelle, can you talk about the difference, if any, in where your shots come from?
Chantelle: Most of my shots were inside. I don't think it's much different. It seems like we had more isolation plays last year specifically designed to get the ball into the post. I don't think we have that as much this year, at least yet, and I think that allows other people, like Hillary and Jenni more to get into the offense. So I think I may have to work a little harder for my shots or just find more open spots, but I don't think they're coming in different places.
The Press: You had 12 rebounds tonight. (Players cheer and laugh.)
Chantelle: That's one of my goals. Actually, hopefully, today was an average game because I've set some goals for averages this year.
The Press: Would you like to share those goals?
Chantelle: No. No. (laughter) But hopefully it's a pretty average game tonight, besides the field goal percentage, because that was bad.
The Press: Would your goal be close to a double double?
Chantelle: You could probably say that.
The Press: Is that realistic?
Chantelle: I actually know it's realistic because my numbers always go up come tournament time. In the tournament last year, I think I averaged close to 10 rebounds, if not a little bit over 10 rebounds and somewhere around 25 or 26 points, whatever, but it was pretty close to tonight's performance. So I just want to show up like that consistently. There are going to be highs and lows. There'll be games when I get 7 and then there'll be games when I get 12 or 13.
The Press: You have a new coaching staff, and I'm sre they have made an assessment of you that may be somewhat different from the previous coaching staff. Has what the new coaching staff given you as feedback caused you to make any new goals for yourself?
Chantelle: Me personally? Nope. (laughter) I think my goals are pretty much based on my assessment of my abilities, and then they told me they agree with it. I'm pretty sure the previous coaching staff would agree with it, too. I'm usually pretty realistic as to my assessment of myself.
The Press: Ashley, same question.
Mac: I think when you're setting goals, you look at yourself and how far you can push yourself. You obviously want your goals to be high. That way you can continually push yourself to reach them. Their assessment has helped set goals, but I don't think I set a certain goal because of what they said I could do. But yeah, talking with them, meeting with them, it's definitely helped.
The Press: You all had 18 TOs tonight. Was that part of the adjustment to the transition game?
Mac: Yeah, it was first game, anxious, nervous -- yeah, obviously we want to improve on that, but I think a lot of it was the adjustment having to go from running to slowing down, and we're not completely used to that right now.
Chantelle: We're not completely used to the set halfcourt offense, either. The offense is different, so it's going to take us a minute to get used to that, too.
The Press: You looked kind of frustrated when you missed the long pass.
Chantelle: (groans) Awww. (laughter) I was like so open, and it was like a perfect pass --
Mac: -- and we work on that every day --
Chantelle: -- every day, we do it every day in practice, and I haven't missed one since the first day of practice. I was so mad. That sucked. (laughter) I wanted to give her the assist.