Vandy's Last Game
Defense was the only thing the Commodores had in their favor in the 63-51 loss in Atlanta. A steady stream of double teams helped Vanderbilt hold super sophomore Gani Lawal to just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting. Lawal had been averaging over 22 points per game, but the Commodores' size and athleticism at the forward position gave him trouble all game long. Overall, Tech managed just 33.9 percent shooting against the ‘Dores.
For the second straight game, Vanderbilt's opponent clogged the lane and dared the Commodores to beat them from the perimeter. The ‘Dores shot an abysmal 2-of-16 from beyond the arc, failing to stretch Tech's defense and allowing the Jackets to throw constant double and triple teams at A.J. Ogilvy.
Ogilvy scored a team-best 15 points, but he committed seven turnovers. Jeff Taylor added 11 points in a solid effort, but the rest of the Commodores were ice cold, shooting a combined 18.8 percent. Worst of all, the ‘Dores gave up 23 offensive rebounds, handing the Jackets consistent second and third chances around the basket. They'll look to regroup both offensively and on the glass against Alabaman A&M.
Alabama A&M At-A-Glance
The Bulldogs return almost all their key players from a team that finished 14-15 overall and third in the SWAC. Mickell Gladness, the one departed starter, was among the nation's leaders in shot blocking last season, but 22nd-year Coach Vann Pettaway still has enough experience and depth at the forward and guard positions to make a run at a conference title.
Alabama A&M limped to an 0-3 start, dropping back-to-back home games to non-Division I opponents Oakwood and Talladega to begin the year. The Bulldogs then traveled to Tuscaloosa, where they put a scare into Alabama before losing 64-56 to the Crimson Tide. They finally got into the win column on Saturday, defeating Tuskegee 80-73.
The Bulldogs rely on their backcourt to lead them on both ends. Their top three scorers are guards, and though the Bulldogs are shooting just 25.4 percent from three-point land thus far, they can be a dangerous team from the perimeter. Coach Pettaway also uses his guards to put defensive pressure on opponents' backcourts. The Bulldogs forced Tuskegee into a whopping 28 turnovers in their lone win of the season.
Trant Simpson – Junior, 5-10, 160 lbs. – Simpson, the Bulldogs' point guard and best scorer, has started this season where he left off last, leading the team with 17.5 points per game. In his sophomore season, Simpson led the SWAC with an average of 15.5 points per game. His 44 three-pointers led the team, while his 40.7 percent shooting from long distance led the conference. This season, Simpson has turned in two phenomenal efforts, scoring a combined 58 points against Oakwood and Tuskegee, to go along with two lackluster performances. He went a combined 3-for-21 against Talladega and Alabama. Frequent trips to the free throw line often lead to a big game for Simpson. The career 84.4 percent free throw shooter converted 24 of his 26 free throw attempts against Oakwood and Tuskegee. Last season, he averaged 22.5 points in games in which he attempted at least eight free throws.
Casey Cantey – Freshman, 6-5, 190 lbs. – Despite all the experience on the Bulldogs' roster, Cantey has earned a starting job in his first year at Alabama A&M. The freshman gives the Bulldogs a different kind of scoring threat in the backcourt, as his height allows him to finish around the basket. His 9.8 points per game are good for third on the squad, and he's made more trips to the charity stripe than any teammate besides Simpson. Cantey has also provided his team with a guard who can rebound and defend taller wings; he's averaging 4.8 boards and 1.5 steals per contest.
John Smith – Senior, 6-6, 260 lbs. – The rugged Smith, a former football player, leads the Bulldogs on the glass, snatching 8.0 rebounds per game. Nearly half of his boards have come on the offensive end, so the Commodores will have to make a concerted effort to keep his bulky frame off of the offensive glass. Smith also chips in 8.0 points per game on 52.0 percent shooting, most of which comes within a few feet of the bucket. The senior is A&M's best shot blocker, averaging 2.0 per game. His weakness thus far has been his penchant for getting into foul trouble; Smith has fouled out in two of the Bulldogs' first four games.
Jonathan Belt – Junior, 6-6, 235 lbs. – Belt completes an undersized Bulldog frontcourt. Though he's not known for his scoring ability (4.5 ppg), the junior is capable of delivering a double-double. Belt is pulling down 5.5 rebounds per game, good for second on the team, and if he can get his field goal percentage (36.8 percent) back up to his career rate of 47.9 percent, his scoring average will near double figures. Like Smith, Belt typically operates around the basket.
Desmond Jackson – Sophomore, 6-1, 190 lbs. – Jackson is the Bulldogs' defensive specialist in the backcourt. Averaging a team-best 3.3 steals per contest, Jackson has been the key to A&M's backcourt pressure. He's scoring just 6.0 points per game on 27.3 percent shooting this season, and inefficiency has plagued Jackson throughout his career as a Bulldog. His five three-pointers are good for second on the team, but he's converting them at a clip of just 29.4 percent.
Junior Cornelius Hester has been an offensive catalyst off the bench this season. After missing all but three games last season, Hester has carried the A&M offense at times this year, averaging 11.8 points per game. The 6-3 guard led all scorers with 20 points in the Bulldogs' near miss at Alabama. Hester leads his team with 10 three-pointers, but he's shooting just 31.3 percent from three-point range. If he catches fire, the volume shooter could become a major thorn in the side of the Commodores.
Junior Jonathan Inman and freshman Royce Hamilton round out the Bulldogs' primary rotation. Inman, a 6-5 forward, missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. Averaging 7.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, he gives the Bulldogs a scoring presence in the post. Hamilton, a 6-5 swingman, scored seven points in his debut against Talladega, but he's mustered just two points on 1-for-7 shooting since.
Keys to the Game
Go Down Under – The Commodores will start three players taller than Alabama A&M's tallest starter. Though John Smith has the strength to bang with anyone in the post, A.J. Ogilvy should finally be able to get some clean looks at the basket. The Bulldogs will certainly throw double teams at Ogilvy every time he touches the ball, but with his height advantage, he should not only be able to get a shot off but also to see over the double team and find an open teammate on the perimeter. Wednesday's game could be a golden opportunity for the ‘Dores to work out some of the bugs in their half-court offense; while Vanderbilt could out-athlete the Bulldogs, the hosts would be better served slowing the tempo and working on half-court sets, even if it means a closer game.
Confidence Builder – The Bulldogs are 1-3 with a pair of bad losses mixed in. Despite the rut the Commodores are in, the outcome should never be in question on Wednesday. A less threatening game like this one will offer the ‘Dores plenty of chances to break out of their slump. Jermaine Beal and Brad Tinsley will again get all the three-point looks they want as a result of the defensive focus on Ogilvy, and the Commodore center will get his fair share of good shots as well. Look for those three to assert themselves early and often in an attempt to regain some of the confidence lost over the past two games.
Prediction: To put it simply, Alabama A&M does not have the personnel to hang with an SEC team on the road. If Vanderbilt struggles to put away the Bulldogs, then this squad could be in for a lot more growing pains this season. Expect the ‘Dores to play with a chip on their collective shoulder, though, and to extinguish all hope of an upset in the first ten minutes. Final score: Vanderbilt 78, Alabama A&M 58.