Saturday, March 10, 2012
Vandy needs to find its shot in semifinal
By David Helman
NEW ORLEANS -- A 22-point win tends to ease a team's missteps.
But for a team that relies as heavily on its shooting as Vanderbilt does, Friday's dismal first-half offense troubled coach Kevin Stallings.
The Commodores averaged 46 percent shooting as a team this season, and they led the SEC in 3-point percentage at 40. But in the first 20 minutes of the eventual 63-41 blowout against Georgia, Vanderbilt looked like it had forgotten what a jump shot looked like.
Those percentages, so vital to Vandy's success, dipped to 34 percent from the field and a troubling 23 percent from beyond the arc.
"In the first half, we were abysmal offensively, and it was really not good offense," Stallings said. "In the second half, we got more movement and [Festus Ezeli] started creating problems inside. We were just a lot more crisp."
It's true that the scoring effort picked up after the break. The shooting percentage jumped all the way up to 51 percent to bump the game average to a more respectable (and familiar) 43.9 percent. Most of that had to do with Ezeli causing problems in the paint, though, and the Commodores also added 14 points off turnovers.
"We did a better job of getting the ball to the basket, and things like that. ... We were getting the ball inside and trying to drive it inside, and not settling for as many jump shots," Stallings said.
A win is a win, especially in the postseason. But the road to that victory was unusual enough that Stallings looked nonplussed by it. The Commodores weren't just shaky, they were plain bad from 3-point range (6-of-25).
"You don't see us with 20-point victories when we go 6-of-25 from 3 and only shoot 11 foul shots," Stallings said. "Generally we're a good 3-point shooting team, and we get to the foul line a lot, and that's why we're a good offensive team. But tonight, obviously, it was much different than that."
Festus Ezeli made his presence felt in Friday's second half as Vanderbilt put away Georgia.
Brad Tinsley was the only Vandy shooter who didn't seem to drop off against the Bulldogs. The Dores' usual duo of John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor, who lead the SEC in scoring, were ... OK. Taylor struggled to 6 points on 2-of-10 shooting. When he made his first and only 3-pointer of the night with 3:56 to play, he pumped his fists and looked toward the ceiling in exasperation, as if he had been worried he had lost his shot for good.
Jenkins' 15 points led the team -- perhaps it goes to show how valuable he is that his night seemed like a bad one. Regarding efforts like Friday's, Jenkins said the Commodores have to hope their defense shines the way it did against the Bulldogs -- who shot 22 percent as a team in the second half.
"We kind of wore them down a little bit with our defense, even though our offense wasn't clicking," he said. "We moved around a lot more and had the energy in the second half to make some shots, but not a lot."
Whatever issues Vandy has with its offense, the Dores don't have long to ponder them. The Georgia game ended a little after 11 p.m. Central time, and Saturday's semifinal against Ole Miss tips off at 2:30 p.m.
That leaves two issues to consider in not a lot of time: The Rebels put on a defensive showing of their own earlier Friday night. They held Tennessee to 28 percent -- a measly 18 field goals -- in an overtime game, no less. Granted, the Commodores bring better weapons to the court than do the Volunteers.
It's an interesting give-and-take. The Rebels looked stout in their win against Tennessee, while Vanderbilt's shooting fell apart against Georgia. Roughly a month ago in Oxford, the Commodores put on a terrifying shooting clinic against Ole Miss. They dropped 12 of 19 3-pointers and racked up 102 points.
So with a berth in the SEC tournament championship game at stake, who shines through?
"We played very well down there; still though, they're a different team now," Tinsley said. "It's the postseason -- a lot of teams are fired up and energized. It's going to be a tough one."