I am by no means a basketball expert. However, I've watched enough games to understand when it's not going to be a team's night. Sometimes it just seems destined that one team has no chance of winning. That was the case tonight as Vanderbilt fell to a hot-shooting Illinois team 79-68.
In my game preview yesterday, my first key goal for the Commodores set the stage for the entire night:
"Get off to a fast start. You don't want to be playing catch-up on the road."
Apparently Coach Stallings does not read 'Dore Posts. The Illini raced off to a 9-0 lead in the first three minutes. From that point on the teams played very evenly. With 13:07 left to play in the first half, the lead was cut to 18-13. Unfortunately, five points was as close as the 'Dores could get all night.
Stallings played a lot of different lineups in the game, trying to find something that worked. Nothing ever seemed to click. Anytime Vanderbilt put together a couple baskets in a row, an Illini player would step up and knock down a jumper. This pattern contined all game long.
A lot may be blamed on Vanderbilt's defensive effort, but regardless, its hard to beat a team that shoots 59 percent from the field.
The Commodores also didn't listen to my final key of the game:
Somebody step up besides A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffery Taylor: We need Jermaine Beal or Brad Tinsley to hit some big shots. We can't rely on the big two all year.
Tonight was a double whammy. Taylor and Ogilvy were basically non-factors, and nobody else stepped up. I thought it might be Tinsley's night after scoring 10 of Vanderbilt's first 20, but he only scored two more the rest of the way. Both Jermaine Beal and John Jenkins were trying to take over. Maybe a little too much. They combined to go 8-of-25 from the field.
I walk away from this game feeling like Illinois won it rather than us losing it. For me, the star of the game was freshman D.J. Richardson. He had 16 points on an extremely efficient 7-of-11 shooting. It seemed like he hit a couple of back-breaking shots. If a couple of those didn't go down, Vandy may have been able to make a run.
Here are a few quick thoughts about the five Commodores that stood out to me:
There was a stretch near the end of the first half when A.J. came alive. He scored six quick points and seemed on the verge of taking over the game. The announcer even gave us a Pearl Harbor reference: "I fear we have awoken a sleeping giant!"
Before that, the Australian Assassin basically hadn't touched the ball. He didn't make an offensive move to the basket for the first 13 minutes of the game! In his defense, the team didn't feed the post nearly enough. He's not a weapon unless the team finds him. Ogilvy only scored two points in the second and finished with eight points and five rebounds.
There's no doubt that Taylor is one of the most explosive players in college basketball. The problem is that he has no jump shot. The Illini limited his penetration and Taylor looked sort of useless on the floor. He scored 12 scrappy points to go along with two assists. When he gets the ball on the wing, teams just collapse in the paint and he is forced to pass the ball. I bet a shot chart would show all his points came within two feet of the basket. If he could nail a jumper he would be unstoppable.
Streaky, streaky, streaky. He started out the game missing his first six shots. He then hit four beautiful shots in the second half, but it was all too late. Jenkins had 11 points, but it took him 11 shots to get there. The sad thing is that near the end of the game I thought he was the only Vandy player who had a chance to score. I didn't want anybody else shooting the ball. My only thought was: "Feed Jenkins!"
Its hard to see everything he does on the floor, but Walker had another good looking stat line. Andre finished with nine points, five rebounds, and five assists. He was aggressive at times and created his own shot on a few occasions. Very solid night.
I'm not sure why he doesn't play more. He entered the game with the 'Dores trailing 9-0. He made a great post move to score the team's first basket, then made an incredible block on the ensuing Illini possession. He only played eight minutes, but gave a spark while he was in. He's starting to grow on me.
It seems like the Vandy forums are ripping the team on their intensity and defensive effort. I agree, to a point.
Illinois ran their sets well and got open looks. They took advantage and knocked down shots. When a team collectively shoots that well, you're not going to beat them. Next up is the Sun Belt Classic against Western Kentucky. I'll have a preview for that game up on Thursday.