Michigan's LaVell Blanchard scored 19 points, and Daniel Horton added 17 as the Michigan Wolverines defeated Vanderbilt 70-66 Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor, Mich. In the Commodores' second trip of the season into Big Ten country, the Wolverines came up big on the offensive board with 17 rebounds, and went to the free-throw line 37 times, converting 27.
After trailing by as many as 13 points in the second half, Vanderbilt fought back to within one point when Mario Moore hit a three-pointer from the corner with six minutes to go. With the Wolverines' starters Bernard Robinson and Lester Abram on the bench with five fouls, the Commodores sensed a chance to steal a win on the road against a name team, but it wasn't to be.
An aggressive Wolverine defense held Vandy to only six points over those final six minutes (not counting Corey Smith's meaningless three-pointer with one second left). The Commodores missed a golden opportunity to cut the lead to two or one point with 28 seconds left when they failed to come up with a rebound after Sherrod Harrell missed a pair of free throws.
"We talked about getting off to a good start, but apparently we just have a confidence problem.," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings. "It never got to the point where we had control of it. We need to play with more toughness.
"We're not going to be a better team if we don't have someone to step up and make some plays. The guys who were supposed to step up for them stepped up, and the guys we needed to step up didn't."
"There were times when they just outplayed us," said Brian Thornton, who led Vanderbilt with 20 points and 8 rebounds. "They were just quicker to the ball. We just can't spot teams like this leads like we did today. They beat us on the offensive boards-- offensive rebounds have been a big problem for us all year."
The Wolverines out-rebounded Vandy 36-28, and went to the free-throw line 37 times, hitting 27.
The Commodores opened up cold from the field, and the Wolverine defense forced some early turnovers in jumping out to a 10-1 lead with 15:58 in the first half. After calling time out, Stallings inserted subs Scott Hundley, David Przybyszewski and Julian Terrell, and Terrell sparked Vandy with two quick baskets and a blocked shot.
Powered by Brian Thornton, who scored on four straight trips downcourt, Vanderbilt slowly climbed back into the game to tie things at 17-17 and 19-19. Jason Holwerda's floater gave Vandy its first lead at 21-19 with 6:15 left, and Adam Payton kept "The Streak" alive with a three-pointer that put Vandy up 24-21. The Commodores stretched their lead to nine at 32-23 with just over a minute left in the half, but the Wolverines hit a pair of three-pointers just before halftime to shave the lead to 32-29 at the break.
Mario Moore scored in double figures for the first time as a Commodore with 10 points.
The Commodores (6-3) get a few days off before traveling to South Bend, Ind. on Monday, Dec. 30 to face the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. The game will be televised in the South by SEC-TV.
Michigan's LaVell Blanchard, rear, scrambles for a loose ball with Vanderbilt's Jason Holwerda, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2002, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Blanchard scored 19 points in Michigan's 70-66 win. (AP Photo/John F. Martin)