Adams: Vanderbilt couldn't gain momentum

As sports fans, we've all been there before. You get yourself pumped up for a big game, but your team doesn't respond. Vanderbilt had the opportunity last night to add a great road win to its NCAA resume. NOTE: Introducing Eric Adams. Check out his blog at Doreposts.com

Coming off an incredible week, which included victories over Missouri and DePaul, the team was rewarded with a 24th-place ranking in the latest ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll.

Expectations were high headed as the ‘Dores headed to Assembly Hall to take on Illinois.

The Fighting Illini erased that excitement very quickly as they jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the first three minutes of the contest. Commodore fans were telling themselves one of two things: "No worries, we have tons of time to catch up." or "We're about the get blown out of the gym!"

In reality, neither thought was right. Vanderbilt played Illinois evenly for 37 minutes in a 79-68 loss in Champaign, IL. They were playing catch-up all evening and could never close the gap. Vanderbilt shrunk the lead to 18-13 in the first half, but that's as small as the margin would get. They trailed by a least seven points for the rest of the game.

The trouble for Vanderbilt was their inability to gain any lasting momentum. Every time they made a basket or two in a row, the Illini quickly answered with one of their own. Specifically, freshman D.J. Richardson scored a number of pivotal baskets. With 5:36 left to play, John Jenkins drained his second consecutive triple to cut the Illini lead to 66-58. Richardson responded with a solo 5-0 run, including a great drive to the basket and a dagger from behind the arc. That sequence was a microcosm of the whole game. Coach Stallings explained a big part of the problem in his post-game news conference.

"If we got them to the end of the shot clock, they just threw it in," Stallings said. "There were probably four, five or six possessions to go at the end of the shot clock, and you don't shoot that percentage by yourself. They just made a bunch of shots."

Three additional things really stood out last night: the red-hot shooting of Illinois, the disappearance of A.J. Ogilvy, and the ineffectiveness of Jeffery Taylor.

There is a fine line between good offense and bad defense. Illinois hit so many jumpers that you have to give credit to their offense. However, defense is all about effort and Stallings was not pleased with the will of his team. On his post game radio show, he let that be known. "I don't think there was a player on our team who played better than just their average," Stallings said. "You can't win on the road in a place like Illinois without people playing above themselves." The Illini shot a scorching 62% in the first half, and 55% in the second. It's hard to beat a team when they are shooting that well.

Things couldn't have gone much worse for the reigning SEC Player of the Week. Ogilvy was non-existent for large stretches of the game. A.J. didn't make his first offensive move to the basket until the 7:16 mark in the first half. He seemed to come to life later, scoring six points in a two minute spurt to close the half. The second half was equally as bad for him. He only scored two points on two shots from the field. It's easy to throw blame at the Australian, but his teammates did not give him enough touches. The Commodores settled for passing around the perimeter and didn't look to feed the post enough.

It goes without saying that Jeffery Taylor is the most explosive player on Vandy's roster. The problem is that opposing coaches are game planning for his attacking nature. It appeared that Illinois exploited a weakness that we are all too familiar with. If teams simply play off him a couple feet to limit his driving capability, Taylor has no ability to create his own shot. Last night Taylor had five made field goals. All of them were credited as layups or dunks. He'll always score 10 points from his sheer athleticism, but until he can consistently make jumpers, he will never take over a game.

Up Next for the ‘Dores

Vanderbilt will play Western Kentucky University in game two of the Sun Belt Classic this Friday. The game will be held at the Sommet Center in Nashville, so it's more of a home game than a natural floor. That being said, expect a large contingent to travel south from Bowling Green. WKU has one of the most prestigious programs in college basketball.

Through the 2008-2009 season, the Hilltoppers had amassed 1602 wins, 14th on the all-time list. The team barely missed a second-straight Sweet 16 appearance, falling to Gonzaga in the second round of last year's NCAA Tournament.

Western is 4-3 on the year, with losses to LSU, South Carolina, and Indiana State.

The passion and fan-base will be there for WKU, but it would be a huge disappointment if Vanderbilt lost on Friday. Doreposts.com

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