Vandy stops Wolfpack for 77-71 championship

In a preview of SEC action, Kellie Jolly Harper's North Carolina State (5-2) pushed Vanderbilt (6-0) in its toughest game of the season as the Commodores used a 20-point lead and scrappy play in the second half to halt a nipping Wolfpack in Saturday's Thanksgiving Tournament championship game. Northwestern State of Nachitoches, La., edged Austin Peay 86-84 in overtime to win the consolation match.

Senior guard Merideth Marsh, on fire from the field, charity stripe and 3-point land, shot a perfect first half with a 16-point effort in 18 minutes. The Tournament MVP finished with 25 points and 5 three pointers. All Tournament Team members Jence Rhoads and Hannah Tuomi finished with 12 and nine points respectively.

About her hot hand, Merideth called her teammates out for setting up the shots. "I give credit to Jence and Jess (Mooney) for passing the ball and for Jordan (Coleman) and Hannah for setting good screens. I just needed to knock them down. I've not been shooting the ball well, but it's my strength and I'm going to step it up from here."

While the score was never tied and Vandy surged to 13-0 in the first four minutes with Merideth's trio of 3-pointers, two free throws by Jessica and a layup by Hannah, the Wolfpack kept pressure up in the paint and a swarming man-to-man to try to pare the margin. N.C. State cut the lead to 8 with 1:50 left in the ballgame. Free throws kept Vandy in the lead as the team hit 28 of 35 from behind the line for 80% shooting.

"They did put some pressure on us," Hannah said. "It's what we're going to be looking forward to in the SEC and it's something we need to work on. We did a good job tonight but we need to do a better job of breaking it."

N.C. State Coach Kellie Harper, proud of her ACC team's efforts, also praised Vanderbilt. "It was a hard fought hard played game by both teams today. We played a ranked opponent at home – as good as Vanderbilt is, you cannot spot them that many points. We just had some defensive breakdowns the first few possessions. We knew Merideth Marsh is a great 3-point shooter. We knew we needed to be on her as soon as she caught the ball; we just did not execute our defensive plan."

Although Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb saw her own team's problems with execution, she liked the floor leadership and the composure her squad exhibited. "We did handle the pressure of shooting a lot of free throws down the stretch. Merideth and Jence led well. We talked, we huddled. It was the first time this season we played this much athleticism with this kind of pressure and it's hard trying to hold people off, but that's a nice position to be in. We did that because we came out ready to play and our effort was good."

The 'Dores travel to Wright State on December 2. Their next home game is Friday, December 4 against Bowling Green, a program that ended Vandy's bid for the 2007 NCAA Sweet 16 with a 59-56 loss.

Merideth Marsh and Jence Rhoads talk strategy in the huddle.

Hannah Tuomi hits two in a layup.

Jessica Mooney gets called for a foul with a bump on a jump shot. Top Stories