Jeffery Taylor just cracked a smile.
The Vanderbilt forward thought he had deflected a pass that went out of bounds against Southeastern Louisiana. The officials, however, didn’t see the tip and rewarded possession to the Commodores. Taylor wasn’t about to argue, though, so he flashed a smirk and jogged down the court.
Things just went Vanderbilt’s way on Saturday night. Even when their hot shooting cooled off in the second half, the Commodores easily swatted away the Lions, winning 85-52 in front of an announced crowd of 12,632 at Memorial Gymnasium.
“We came out and jumped on them right away,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “It was a good night. It was fun to watch them play. We did some good things. We did some things we could have done better and we improved in some areas we focused on over the break.”
Vanderbilt (8-2) took the floor for the first time since losing on the road to Missouri on Dec. 8. The Commodores sprinted out of the gate, leading by 10 points before Southeastern Louisiana (5-4) scored its first basket from the field with 16:09 left in the first half. They led by as many as 34 points in the first half and were up 53-24 at halftime.
It was the most points in a first half for Vanderbilt since it dropped 53 against Bradley on Nov. 24, 2007. It is also the fifth time this season they have allowed fewer than 30 points in the first half.
After shooting 62.5 percent (20-of-32) from the field in the first half, the Commodores were sluggish after halftime and made just nine of 24 shots (37.5 percent). The Lions scored seven straight points out of the break before Vanderbilt woke back up.
“I think human nature is it is hard to play with a 29-point lead,” Stallings said. “When you are up that big — and for all intents and purposes, the game is over with — it is human nature to struggle to focus in on the little things. We told them at halftime that we would either get better or get worse in the second half. We probably got better at a few things and worse at a few.”
Nine different Commodores scored, with Taylor and Steve Tchiengang each scoring 15 points. It was a career-high for Tchiengang and Stallings said “it was fun to see.”
“Steve had been, I don’t want to say struggling, but not playing like we know he can,” Stallings said. “I think he got some things cleared up in his own mind.”
Tchiengang, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward, was 5-of-8 from the field, made two 3-pointers and grabbed five rebounds. That followed two scoreless games against Missouri and Belmont.
“I told myself I just needed to be a little more aggressive and play with more passion,” Tchiengang said. “I think I lacked passion or excitement during those two-game stretches. I just told myself I need to step up and I happened to be productive [Saturday] night.”
Lance Goulbourne added 13 points and John Jenkins had 12. Jenkins made four of Vanderbilt’s 13 3-pointers, which is a season-high.
For Southeastern Louisiana, Gary Dixon had a game-high 16 points and Antonnio Benton added 10.
• One of the areas Stallings wanted his team to improve on during the break was attacking the boards after getting outrebounding by Missouri. Vanderbilt answered the challenge and grabbed 43 rebounds, compared to Southeastern Louisiana’s 39.
The Commodores, however, struggled at the free-throw line again. They were 14-of-24 from the charity stripe and made just 11-of-22 against Missouri. Vanderbilt entered the game shooting 73.5 percent from the line.
“That’s something [Stallings] said after the game will have to get fixed,” Jenkins said. “He said it is the only individual thing of the game we have to worry about, so let’s fix it.”
• Goulbourne made his second straight start in place of forward Andre Walker, who has missed the last three games due to mononucleosis. Walker is expected to miss Tuesday’s matchup at Middle Tennessee State. The Commodores hope to have him back for their non-conference home game on Dec. 29 against Marquette.
“He looked fine,” Stallings said laughing. “It looked like he could play but so far the doctors still say he can’t. So we’ll see where that goes.”
• Jordan Smart scored the first points of his career when he sunk a 3-pointer with 1:42 remaining in the game. The redshirt sophomore guard from Lexington, Ky., had played in just four games this season.
When he nailed the 3 from the left side, his teammates were ecstatic on the bench, with Taylor shooting a grin and holding his arms up for several seconds.
“I really appreciate that in our guys because they are genuinely excited for those guys,” Stallings said. “Jordan comes out just like they do and works hard every day but he doesn’t get the benefit of playing a lot. I told him today at the shoot-around he was going to score tonight. So he needed to go ahead an accept that and be ready for it.”