Breakout performances carry VU women past ETSU

Monday, December 28, 2009 at 10:51pm
Freshman Tiffany Clarke had a career-high 27 points in Vanderbilt's win Monday night. / Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

The Vanderbilt women’s basketball team proved Monday that you’re never too old or too young to do better.

Two players — one senior, one freshman — had career-best performances as the 19th-ranked Commodores overcame upset-minded East Tennessee State 96-83 before 4,008 at Memorial Gymnasium.

Freshman Tiffany Clarke and senior Lauren Lueders each had the highest-scoring games of their careers with 27 and 16 points, respectively. Both made more field goals – 10 for Clarke and six for Lueders – than they ever had and topped themselves in other areas as well.

“I was open a lot,” Lueders said. “So I got more shots than I thought.”

It was her perimeter play that kept Vanderbilt (11-1) in it during the early going when ETSU (4-5) led by as many as six and had a 13-2 edge in rebounds through the first nine minutes. Half of her points came in the first 6:32.

Clarke later dominated on the interior half as the Commodores led throughout the final 24:36 – a couple times by as many as 17. She made all six of her second-half shots, was 10-for-13 from the floor overall and added a career-high 11 rebounds for her first career double-double.

“To dominate like that as a freshman, I don’t care who you’re playing, is hard and it’s even harder in the post because you have to get the ball,” coach Melanie Balcomb said. “… It (also) was nice to have Lauren get off early and be nice and relaxed on the perimeter. She got good looks and knocked them down, and that really, really helped us stay in the game.”

Three others scored in double figures as well – Merideth Marsh had 18, Jence Rhoads 16 and Hannah Tuomi 14 – as Vanderbilt shot 54.5 percent from the field and enjoyed its highest-scoring performance in more than a year.

That was more than enough to offset the superlative individual effort of ETSU senior TaRonda Wiles, who made four first-half 3-pointers and led all players with 30 points. It was the most scored by any player for or against VU this season.

The Lady Bucs also got 20 points from Siarre Evans and 11 from Murfreesboro native Tara Davis.

“Their three scorers still had their points,” Balcomb said. “(ETSU) averages 78 points and they got 83 (against us). The nice thing is we had 96. We really pretty much just outscored them.”

Lueders ultimately made four 3-pointers, one more than she had made in any 93 previous career appearances and more than half of her team’s seven. She had 13 points (one short of her previous single-game best) in the first half and then made her fourth 3-pointer 1:27 into the second half.

Clarke started with surprising proficiency at the foul line. She made just 52.6 percent (20-for-38) of her free throws through the first 11 games but made her first six in this one (she had not made more than five in any single contest) and seven of nine overall.

She also had all three of VU’s blocked shots (another career-high) and received a loud ovation when she fouled out with 57 seconds to play.

“It was a little embarrassing, to say the least,” Clarke said. “I don’t like to foul out at all. I was really upset. I have to learn ... to play smarter.”

In other words, there’s still room for improvement.