Vandy decks DePaul 83-76 in OT NCAA win

Outsized sixth-seed Vanderbilt was not outgunned and not outplayed in a thrilling 83-76 overtime win against 11th seed DePaul, the taller, more athletic team looking to play spoiler in the Commodores's 23rd NCAA appearance. Defensive stops and offensive spurts shut down the Blue Demons' talented frontline. DePaul Coach Doug Bruno said Vandy's smarts helped, too.

Vanderbilt (23-10) advanced to the NCAA Second Round for the seventh time in 10 seasons after winning their third overtime game of 2009-10 with prior wins over Western Kentucky (79-73) and Arkansas (65-64) in the SECT. The ‘Dores will play three-seed and fifth-ranked Xavier (28-3), which advanced after surviving a scare from scrappy East Tennessee State 94-82.

For seniors Lauren Leuders (8 points, 2 threes), Merideth Marsh (26 points, 3 threes) and Jessica Mooney (14 points, 6 assists, 4 steals), the advance was crucial to extending their collegiate careers. Experienced post-season juniors Jence Rhoads (15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) and Hannah Tuomi (17 points and a career high 12 rebounds and six assists) pushed themselves on both ends of the court. A fired-up and aggressive Vanderbilt had too many weapons to let DePaul escape with an upset.

"We got some pretty crucial stops toward the end of the game," said Hannah. "We really locked down on defense and didn't allow them to get good shots off. If they got a shot off, we tried to box them out. We didn't come out good in the second half, so when we went into overtime, we said this was our game. It was gut check time. The team that wants it the most is gonna win it."

Merideth added, "Overtime is about heart. You have to get into that mental game – the physical stuff you have to put aside. It's mental whether or now you want to walk away with a win or loss. And that's what we talked about in the huddle is whether we were going to dig deep enough and show how much heart we truly have."

The Blue Demons led by as many as 7 points at the 10:17 mark in the latter half as they devoured Vandy's33-26 halftime lead. DePaul point guard Sam Quigley, the team's ace ball handler, was benched for 13 minutes with early foul trouble. She finished with 14 points. Three of her teammates also scored in double figures: Keisha Hampton with 16, Felicia Chester with 19 and DePaul scoring leader Anna Martin with 24.

Senior guards Jessica and Merideth were tasked with making life difficult for Sam. "For all of us, we definitely didn't want our season to end," Jessica said. "Whatever it took we were going to do. I felt good about the defensive pressure. We wanted to slow down her offense as much as possible because she's the heart of the team. I tried to deny her as much as I could and make it difficult."

Defensively, Vandy struggled in the second half before regaining composure to tie the game at 50-all, sprinting ahead by 9 points with 4:29 remaining. The Blue Demons then staged a furious comeback to tie the game at 64-all. DePaul's Katherine Harry missed a jumper with 12 seconds left, giving Vandy the last possession. Jessica found herself with the ball and lobbed a last heave toward the goal in a 3-point miss. It was apparent the play didn't go down as planned.

But momentum for DePaul disappeared in the 5-minute overtime as the ‘Dores opened the extra period on an 11-0 run. DePaul was dry until Quigley hit a 3-pointer with 1:52 left. Merideth and Jence sank four free throws each down the stretch to seal the win.

Head Coach Melanie Balcomb, winning on her former court in the first game she has played in Cintas Center since leaving Xavier, described the action that won the duel. "We got more aggressive, more attacking, and got into the tempo we needed to get into. We got free throws and got them worn down and I thought it was our game from then on."

DePaul's Coach Bruno acknowledged that turnovers and inconsistency led to DePaul's demise. Vandy's defense had a little something to do with it as well.

"Even if we are as athletic as we might appear, Vanderbilt is a very difficult team to play one way against. There were too well coached, execute too well and too smart so you have to juggle the game. We were in a constant state of juggling."

Merideth officially became Vanderbilt's career 3-point leader with 254 shots made from beyond the arc, surpassing Abi Ramsey. Her 26 points were a bucket shy of her career high. As good a performance as Merideth had, it was Hannah Tuomi who impressed those unfamiliar with her gritty style of play and work ethic. The double-double was sweet reward for the Thornton, Colo., native who used crutches to move her feet during last season's SEC and NCAA runs. If the ‘Dores run deeper, her last name will inevitably become more pronounceable with repeated use.

The ‘Dores and Musketeers square off at 7 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, televised on ESPN2. By end of play Sunday, all six SEC teams in the tourney survived the First Round.

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