Trailing 45-27 at the end of the first half, it looked as though the Vanderbilt Commodores might be in for a bad shellacking at the hands of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Monday at South Bend, Ind. However, the Irish were less proficient in the second half and the Commodores got better, closing the Irish lead down to six points on two occasions.
In the closing minutes Notre Dame pulled back ahead to win 76-63, by about the expected margin.
Matt Freije had an encouraging return to form to lead the Commodores with 23 points. Julian Terrell and Russell Lakey had twelve points each. The Commodores shot only 33% from the field for the game, connecting on only five of 21 threes. Overall, the Vanderbilt defense was good and rebounding was a standoff between the two teams.
The College of Charleston Cougars are coached by Tom Herrion, a former assistant to Pete Gillen at Providence and Virginia. Herrion took over from John Kresse, who retired after 23 years as head coach and 560 victories. The Cougars belong to the Southern Conference and come into the Vanderbilt game with a 10-2 record, including the championship of the Great Alaska Shootout, in which they defeated Wyoming (81-72), Oklahoma State (66-58), and Villanova (71-69). Before going to Alaska the Cougars beat Charleston Southern (84-70) and non-Division I Webber (108-48), both at home.
After returning from Alaska, the Cougars won from South Carolina-Aiken 91-59 at home. They were trounced by Central Florida, 82-64, and edged Stetson 66-64 on a road trip. Back home they narrowly defeated American 68-65, lost to tough UNC-Wilmington, 78-69, and most recently won their own Good Neighbor Classic by whipping UMBC 78-57, and Howard 77-73. Had College of Charleston maintained the remarkable intensity that they displayed in their three Alaska games, they would probably be unbeaten.
The leading College of Charleston scorers are 6-5 junior small forward Thomas Mobley, from Charlotte, N.C. (14.3 ppg), and 6-3 senior shooting guard Troy Wheless, from Bunn, N.C. (14 ppg). Both men have shot extremely well from the field (well over 50%), from the three-point zone (well over 40%), and at the free throw line (over 75%). Both are athletic and good defenders and Wheless is the team leader.
The point guard is 6-0 senior T.J. Harris, who seldom shoots (1.7 ppg) but easily leads the team in assists (4.5 per game). He has better than a 2-1 ratio of assists to turnovers and plays about 25 minutes per game.
Zeke Johnson, 6-6 junior from Baltimore, Md., is the high post player, and averages 12.2 ppg. He is able to make the three but gets most of his points close to the basket, and is the second-leading rebounder (4.9 per game).
Center Mike Benton, 6-9 junior from Covington, Ga., carries much more weight than Johnson (250 vs. 200 lbs), leads the team in rebounding (5.5 per game) and blocked shots (24 to date), and contributes 10.3 ppg.
Although these five players have been getting the most minutes, five others see plenty of action. 6-4 junior guard Marcus Johnson of Annapolis, Md. is a transfer from Tallahassee CC who is averaging 8.4 ppg. 5-11 sophomore Tony Mitchell, from Augusta, Ga. (6.9 ppg) and 6-6 junior Joe Weurding, from Atlanta (5.3 ppg), along with Johnson, are threats from outside.
Senior Rudy Rothseiden, at 6-8, 250 lbs, provides help underneath, but isn't much of a scorer. 6-2 junior Quinton Hollis also got some minutes earlier, but did not appear in either of the Good Neighbor Classic games. 6-2 sophomore Stanley Jackson may see limited action.
Charleston has consistently shot the ball well, but the Cougars have sometimes struggled on the boards, especially against Oklahoma State, Villanova, and Central Florida. It is likely that they will find Vanderbilt's height a difficult problem to overcome. They usually do not turn the ball over excessively.
If the Cougars regain their Great Alaska Shootout form, they will play Vanderbilt a very close game, as they did in the only previous meeting between the two teams (a 74-69 win for Vanderbilt in Nashville, Feb. 8, 1992). However, Vanderbilt should rebound from the Michigan and Notre Dame losses to win this one by eight to 12 points.