"[High Point] played very well. Certainly, their guard (Joe Knight) was outstanding," said Head Coach Kevin Stallings. "We played the game without a lot of attention to detail. It was kind of disappointing. I'm glad we have some practices coming up to where we can get it rectified."
Though heavily favored over the Panthers, and despite shooting a cool 45% from the floor, the Commodores ran out to a 16-point lead just four minutes into the second half but were unable to put away the Panthers. Much as Indiana's Bracey Wright had exploded in the Commodores' previous game, Knight shot High Point back into contention and kept the 5,921 partisans engaged until the final minute, when the Commodores were able to seal the win with free throws.
"It was just an overall bad job defensively, and we don't sustain leads," said Stallings. "We get leads, and then we go to the bench and lose the lead. That always keeps us feeling like we are always fighting up-stream. I'm getting frustrated with that. It has been a consistent problem."
Stallings tinkered with the lineup against Jerry Steele's undersized Panthers by giving sophomore David Przybyszewski the start over Corey Smith. It was the first time this season Smith had not started.
With the Commodores playing a bit ragged and trailing by three in the early minutes, Stallings inserted a lineup which included three freshmen: Mario Moore, Julian Terrell and Adam Payton. Moore sparked Vanderbilt when he hit a three-pointer that gave Vanderbilt the lead at 13-11, and Vanderbilt would never trail again. Later Payton spotted up from the top of the key and drained another trifecta to extend the lead to seven.
But Knight, a 6-1 guard from nearby Columbia, Tenn., found the range and torched Vanderbilt for 20 first-half points. In a game that was a homecoming of sorts for Knight, the sophomore scored from inside and outside, and ended the first half with a 23-foot bomb that cut Vanderbilt's lead to five at 35-30.
After leading the team in scoring with seven in the first half, Smith started the second half. The Commodores went to work on the inside, scoring the first eight points of the half to open a 13-point lead at 43-30.
There was a concerted effort to get junior Matt Freije involved in the game. After being saddled with early foul trouble and only scoring two points in the first half, Freije was having a hard time finding his rhythm. Eventually, Freije found his shot and finished the game with 12 points.
Knight's second-half performance was just as spectacular as the first. The Columbia native displayed his whole repertoire en route to a career-high 40 points.
Finally, in the 40th minute of the game, the Commodores stopped Knight. With the game still in doubt, junior point guard Russell Lakey stuffed Knight's three-point attempt. The block triggered a fast break that concluded with Smith spinning and converting an acrobatic lay-up.
Despite not getting the start, Smith finished the game with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting in 29 minutes of play, and nailed all three of his three-point attempts.
The Commodores begin a two-game holiday road swing next Saturday at 1:30 p.m. when they play Michigan at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.