NASHVILLE, Tenn.-Vanderbilt's John Jenkins scored 19 points, Festus Ezeli added 12, and Jeffery Taylor chipped in 11, as the Commodores disposed of visiting Alabama-Huntsville, 69-53, in an exhibition contest at Memorial Gymnasium on Wednesday evening.
The Commodores trailed just twice in the opening minutes, built a double-digit lead with six minutes left in the first half, and held it at that level most of the evening against the Division II Chargers.
A 13-0 second-half run by Vandy was instrumental in putting the game away. The 'Dores also used a 12-point advantage at the free throw line, out-rebounded UAH 36-29, and held the visitors to 33.9 percent shooting or the evening.
It was the first public outing of the year for the team, which has another exhibition on Nov. 8 against Southern Indiana, before the season opens officially vs. Presbyterian on Nov. 12.
"At times we looked pretty good, and at times, we didn't," VU coach Kevin Stallings said. "That's what's going to happen on November 3."
It took the 'Dores a while to get going-both Jenkins and Ezeli mentioned that first-game jitters were a factor-as the Commodores failed to register a field goal until Taylor knocked down a 3 at the 16:24 mark.
The Chargers tied the game twice from there, but never led again. By halftime, Vanderbilt held a 31-19 lead, as they held UAH to 28 percent from the field.
Jenkins led VU in first-half scoring with eight points.
UAH crept within seven, when Elliott Jones hit a 3 with 13:47 left. But Vandy freshman Rod Odom answered with one of his own to put Vandy up 42-32 just 24 seconds later.
Jones answered with another layup moments later, but two Kyle Fuller free throws at 11:42 started Vandy's big run.
The Chargers didn't score again until Jamie Smith hit a layup with 7:15 left, but by then, Vandy's lead was 55-36.
UAH's deliberate style slowed the pace of the game, with the Commodores attempting just 47 shots. Stallings thinks it's an approach they'll see often this year, and felt it was a good test for VU in that regard.
"I thought it was just what we hope to get out of an exhibition game, and that is a team that is well coached and sticks with their plan, and it's a tough game to play right out of the shoot. They have long possessions, that's how they play, I know that, and so they're going to have the ball for a long period of time. "We definitely aren't used to that. In practice, we're used to running up and down," Jenkins added.
VU shot 46.8 percent from the field, but like last year, much of the margin of victory came from the free-throw line. The Commodores hit 20-of-27 there (74.1 percent), compared to UAH's 8-of-9 (88.9 percent).
With the Commodores holding a huge edge in size and athleticism, it's hard to take much meaningful from a game like Wednesday's. However, Stallings said that the nine players who played the first half-Jenkins, Taylor, Ezeli, Odom, Fuller, Andre Walker, Brad Tinsley, Lance Goulbourne, and Steve Tchiengang--currently comprise VU's basic player rotation.
"I would say that right now the nine that played in the first half, those guys have probably carved out a little bit of a niche for themselves. That's not a done deal yet, that's still sort of a work in progress too but those are certainly are top nine at this juncture."
One name missing from that list is Darshawn McClellan, a senior who's played key minutes in the past. Stallings announced that McClellan has asked for, and will be given, a redshirt season.
Stallings also said that Tinsley has been slowed by a foot injury, and Taylor nearly didn't play with an ankle issue.
Stallings was also noticeably hobbled by a back he wrenched on Wednesday morning.
Paid attendance was 11,439, though the actual crowd was considerably smaller.