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Saturday, November 19, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Vanderbilt 86, NC State 79

By Andy Katz

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A quick look at Vanderbilt’s 86-79 victory over NC State Saturday night in the semifinals of the Legends Classic at the IZOD Center:

Overview: Vandy’s offense, still sans Festus Ezeli, was clicking as well as it has in the early season. The Commodores came into the season as a perimeter-based team with plenty of pop from the 3-point arc and they were able to knock down a series of 3s to keep NC State off balance.

Both teams lacked quality defense but certainly put together an entertaining match. The two teams traded a number of baskets before Vandy was able to create a little distance. But for the first time this season the Commodores played up to their potential.

Vandy got rocked back a bit by Cleveland State last weekend. The Vikings essentially popped the Dores in the face before they were able to respond. The perimeter defense was poor as Vandy coach Kevin Stallings was disappointed in the overall defensive effort. But that didn’t happen against the Wolfpack. NC State isn’t as quick as Cleveland State but still had its chances to get to the rim and had to settle for jump shots quite a bit.

When it was over: Not until the final minute. NC State was a spirited group throughout and took a three-point lead with seven minutes to go after an 11-0 run. NC State and Vandy exchanged the leads throughout the latter part of the second half. But a left leg cramp to C.J. Leslie, who was playing his first game of the season, seemed to zap some of the momentum out of NC State. But Richard Howell wouldn’t let the Wolfpack slip. John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor had to bail out Vandy, as Jenkins hit a 3 with 1:16 left for an 81-77 lead. The Dores sealed it from there.

Star of the game: Jenkins has the potential to be SEC player of the year. It will be tough for him to emerge from all of the options at Kentucky, but if Jenkins can shoot as well as he did Saturday night on a consistent basis then he has a chance. Jenkins was able to score in a variety of ways and finished with 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting. He had plenty of help from Taylor, Brad Tinsley, Lance Goulbourne and Dai-Jan Parker. But Jenkins is ultimately the difference-maker here.

Takeaway: This NC State team won’t fade. There were times last season when the Wolfpack either ran out of gas or simply didn’t finish games. It ultimately led to Sidney Lowe’s dismissal. New coach Mark Gottfried has the Pack playing with plenty of passion and purpose.

What’s next: Vanderbilt will play the winner of Texas-Oregon State on Monday night in the final, while NC State will play the loser. Vandy is the best team in this group, but all four have the potential to reach the postseason.