Red-hot Dores have a little bit of everything


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – His nickname is “Dolla Beal.”

And sure enough, Jermaine Beal was money Wednesday night in No. 23 Vanderbilt’s 85-76 victory over 14th-ranked Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Or better yet … straight cash.

His coach, who’s not one to unnecessarily gush, called him spectacular and the ultimate security blanket, among other things.

“It’s one of the first things I said to the team after the game,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings recounted. “When your senior plays like a senior, things get a lot easier. And he certainly played like one tonight.

“He was awesome, really awesome.”

Indeed, Beal shot holes in the Vols’ defense and took over in the second half on his way to 25 points. He played 38 minutes and didn’t have a turnover. He made all three of his 3-point attempts in the second half. He was simply the best player on the court.

“He was the difference,” Tennessee senior guard Bobby Maze said. “And what made him so terrific was that he was able to knock down shots.”

Nobody needed to tell Beal that this was his last shot in Knoxville after some horrific shooting performances against the Volunteers the last couple of years, particularly in this building.

A year ago, Beal was 1-of-10 from the field for three points in a 69-50 loss in Knoxville. He missed both of his 3-pointers. He wasn’t much better in the game in Nashville, going 1-of-7 from the field in a 76-63 loss to the Vols. He missed all five of his 3-pointers in that game.

And two years ago in Knoxville, Beal was 1-of-5 from the field in an 80-60 loss to Tennessee.

So when the game was hanging there in the balance in the second half Wednesday, Beal never blinked.

“I haven’t won here forever,” said Beal, who scored eight straight points to turn a six-point game into a 74-60 runaway with 4:57 remaining. “My only chance to win here was tonight. The main thing was to go out and play hard and leave everything out there, and I feel like we did that.”

As a result, the 23rd-ranked Commodores (16-3, 5-0) extended their winning streak to 10 straight games. It was also their third straight road win in the SEC. The last time they won their first three away from home in the league was the 1964-65 season.

It’s a given these guys are pretty good in Memorial Gym with the funky setup and the benches at the end of the court. They’re a tough out at home and always have been.

But the makeup of this team makes you think the Commodores are going to be a tough out no matter where they play or who they play the rest of the way.

You name it, and the Commodores have it. They have depth, size, shooters and a senior point guard who knows when to take charge.

And when things got testy Wednesday, Vanderbilt proved to be the tougher, more physical team.

“We have a physical team,” Stallings said. “A year ago, we were not physical, and we could be taken advantage of in games like that. We are more physical this year. I don’t know that we’re the most physical, but we’re more physical than we’ve been.”

Getting Andre Walker back from his knee injury last season has been huge. His stat line every night is usually the same. He had nine points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks against the Vols.

The emergence of sophomore post players Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang has been equally important, and Stallings said 6-11 junior A.J. Ogilvy is in better shape.

“Our big guys do a decent job of giving us a presence in that lane area, and that’s a big key for our team,” Stallings said.

And when the Commodores shoot the ball the way they did against the Vols (15-4, 3-2), they can make a case for being the most complete team in the SEC.

Freshman John Jenkins has been a terror shooting the 3-pointer off the bench. His 3 at the 7:39 mark to answer Maze’s jumper was one of the biggest shots of the night.

The trio of Brad Tinsley, Jenkins and Beal was a combined 8-of-12 from 3-point range for the game.

“I think it’s the most complete team I’ve played on, definitely,” said Ogilvy, who scored 12 points and took advantage of an ailing Wayne Chism, who had 16 rebounds, but had trouble scoring after hyper-extending his knee Saturday at Georgia.

“We’re bigger and stronger and a lot more athletic than any team I’ve played on and have the ability to shoot the ball. We have every piece of the puzzle, really.”

Where it goes from here for the Commodores in the short term remains to be seen. They get Kentucky on Saturday in Lexington and then Mississippi State at home next Wednesday.

But if everyone stays healthy, this is a team built for a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Don’t tell that to Stallings -- not yet anyway. He can’t see past the next practice.

“If you get to a point where you think you’ve arrived, then you’ve got some problems,” he said.

True enough.

But right now, these Commodores are full of answers.