Even when Kedren Johnson is at his best, he can’t hide all of Vanderbilt’s offensive woes.
When the Commodores’ leading scorer isn’t at 100 percent, the scoring problems are magnified.
That was the case on Saturday in a 68-49 loss to No. 18 Butler at Memorial Gymnasium. Johnson played with a shoulder injury he sustained in practice just three days prior. He scored only nine points and missed seven of 10 shots as Vanderbilt scored its fewest points in a home game since the 2001-02 season.
“Other than Kedren nobody has proven they are going to be that guy for us,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “It doesn’t take a genius to look at the stat sheet and just sort of see what some of our deficiencies and where some of our deficiencies are.”
Against Butler (10-2), there were many holes.
Vanderbilt (5-6) was outrebounded 42-27 and continued its horrid shooting from the free-throw line by making just eight of 19 (42.1 percent). The usually reliable defense buckled in the second half as the Bulldogs made 13 of 20 shots and Rotnei Clarke drained four of his six 3-pointers.
But arguably one of the biggest lapses was on offense, which unfortunately for Stallings and the Commodores has been a reoccurring theme.
They appeared to be bucking that trend early. Kevin Bright, Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller each knocked down 3-pointers and Josh Henderson’s layup gave Vanderbilt a 13-8 lead less than seven minutes in and fired up the crowd of 11,990.
Then the Commodores went scoreless for the next five minutes and made just three shots the rest of the half. Butler capitalized on the opportunity, took a three-point lead into halftime and quickly took control with an 11-3 run after the break for a 14-point lead advantage.
“We came out in the second half very slow and dug ourselves a big hole,” Fuller said.
Vanderbilt took more than 37 minutes to score 40 points before a late flurry improved its percentages. Still, the Commodores shot just 33.3 percent (17 of 51).
“That has just kind of been our team so far,” Stallings said. “We just have trouble putting it in the goal at times. That’s just who we are right now.”
Johnson was coming off a 25-point performance in a loss to Middle Tennessee State more than a week ago. But in his first practice back from the holiday break on Wednesday, he injured his right (shooting) shoulder. As he tried to slap the ball away on defense, he suffered a subluxation, which is a partial dislocation of a joint.
He didn’t practice Thursday and was limited on Friday. Stallings said Johnson was “50-50” to play and was amazed he did.
Johnson, a sophomore who averages 17.8 points, said the injury didn’t bother him. But he obviously wasn’t himself. He missed his first four shots and didn’t score until 2:45 into the second half.
“He has scored it on everybody he has played against,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “Scored it in wins. Scored it in losses. You look for trends on teams and I guess there was a trend — he scored it. We just had to try to make it as tough as possible. We tried to be active and aggressive doubling him off some middle ball screens. He is a good player.”
But he needs help.
Fuller, the team’s second-leading scorer, led the Commodores with 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting. Bright, another guard and a promising freshman, wasn’t as effective and had just three points — the third time in four games he has scored five or fewer points.
Scoring from the post continued to be an issue though Shelby Moats provided a bright spot off the bench when he tied a career-high with eight points. Even so, production in the paint is lacking.
Odom, who Stallings called the “unquestioned leader” before the season started, scored a season-low four points on one of nine shooting. Henderson had just five points and James Siakam’s two shot attempts were a missed an open layup and blocked dunk.
With Southeastern Conference play less than two weeks away — the non-conference slate concludes on Wednesday against William & Mary — Stallings and his coaching staff look for patience along with an increase in scorers and leaders.
“We [as a coaching staff] just have to keep working to try to help them,” Stallings said. “These guys try hard. They’re coachable.”