In the first of two mid-season crossroads home games, Vanderbilt's season took a turn for the good Wednesday, as the Commodores defeated Georgia, 94-91. The victory improved the conference record to 2-4. It was the Commodores' best offensive performance of the season against a strong opponent. Matt Freije led the way with a career-high 31 points, while Brian Thornton (16), Scott Hundley (14), and Mario Moore (14) gave Freije plenty of support.
The Mississippi Rebels come into Saturday's game with a conference record of 3-3. They lost Wednesday at home to Mississippi State (58-57), and earlier to South Carolina (55-49) on the road, and at Tennessee (66-64). Their wins have been at LSU (67-57), and at home over Alabama (75-57) and Arkansas (73-54). Their overall record is 12-5, with their best non-conference victories at the expense of Virginia Commonwealth, Evansville, Austin Peay and George Mason, and losses at East Carolina and Memphis.
Mississippi is an extremely tough man-to-man defensive team and a scrappy, difficult opponent. They are third in the nation in defense (points yielded), and first in the conference. Although they are far less potent on offense-- only tenth in the conference in points scored-- they are second in free-throw percentage and third in three-point shooting percentage. They are ninth in rebound margin and eighth in assist/turnover ratio.
The leading scorers are two juniors, 6-8 Justin Reed and 6-7 Aaron Harper, both of whom are averaging 14.4 ppg. Harper, who plays on the wing, and has been on a roll lately, connecting on 49.5% of his three-point efforts (45-of-91). Reed, mainly a high post player, makes over 50% of his shots from the field and is also the team's leading rebounder (5.8 per game). Reed is the only Rebel who can be called a shot-blocker (25 blocks to date).
6-3 senior David Sanders averages 9.8 ppg and is co-leader in assists, with a total of 58. He also leads the team in steals, and is the top defensive player. Sanders makes about a third of his three-point attempts (15-of-44 to date).
The other starters are 6-8 senior Derrick Allen of Gadsden, Ala., and 6-4 freshman Trey Pearson of South Fulton, Tenn. Allen, who transferred in last year from Southern Union Community College, is a senior; he mostly plays the low post. Allen scores 8.6 ppg, and is the team's second-leading rebounder. Pearson is the point guard-- he scores only 4.4 ppg, and is co-leader in assists.
The sixth man is 6-3 senior Emmanuel Wade. He averages 7.5 ppg, mostly on drives to the basket. 6-10 junior John Gunn, who has been plagued with injuries and illnesses until this year, is playing about ten minutes per game and averages 3.5 points.
Several others who may see action are 6-0 sophomore Justin Johnson, 6-3 freshman Jonathan Loe, 6-8 senior Shaun Holtz, 6-7 sophomore Kendrick Fox, and 6-7 sophomore Chris Rhodes. Johnson averages 2.5 points, and both he and Loe are capable of making the outside shot.
As they do in most games, the Vanderbilt Commodores have a size advantage. However, Mississippi has just as much depth.
This game will be a low-scoring, closely contested affair, with a final score probably on the order of 63-60. Coming off the good win over Georgia, and with the home-court advantage, the Commodores will be slightly favored, and should improve their conference record to 3-4.