Kevin Stallings was finished asking for better performances from a couple of his key players. So he changed his starters.
Vanderbilt’s coach sat A.J. Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal at the outset of Friday’s game against Western Kentucky, the nightcap of the Sun Belt Classic at Sommet Center. Festus Eezli took Ogilvy’s place and freshman John Jenkins made his first career start while Beal sat.
While it’s likely he got the players’ attention he did not get the result he wanted as the Commodores (6-3) fell 76-69 in a matchup that featured six ties and eight lead changes. It was their second defeat in four days after they started the week ranked No. 24 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll.
“At some point, you have to acknowledge effort, or lack thereof,” Stallings said. “Even though you know that guys are your most talented guys, there’s a standard there that starts tearing at the fabric of your team if they’re not playing with the kind of effort that is needed.
“… You do all the things that coaches do – you show it on film; you talk about it; you encourage. Then, finally you try to do something else a little more extreme.”
The move ended a streak of 72 consecutive starts for Beal. The senior had been on the floor for the opening tip of every game since the start of his sophomore season. Ogilvy had started all but three of 71 games in his career, and those were because of injury.
Beal was on the floor to begin the second half and eventually played 27 minutes, more than all but two of his teammates. He was one of two Commodores in double figures as he scored half of his 12 points in the final minute of play. However, he missed a free throw with 23 seconds to go, which would have cut the deficit to three and made it a one-possession game.
Ogilvy played 15 minutes and had eight points with one rebound.
“It bothered me,” Beal said. “But at the same time the goal was to come in and get a win. Obviously, we failed doing that.”
Within the first 93 seconds, Ezeli had a basket on a put-back and got to the foul line for two shots (he made both). The redshirt-sophomore finished with seven points and four rebounds. Jenkins, who battled knee and ankle injuries for the second straight game, missed all five shots he took and was held scoreless for the first time in his career.
Coincidentally or not, Western Kentucky (5-3) got off to a fast start as it made 10 of its first 13 shots and did not trail until nearly 14 minutes had elapsed. Vanderbilt hung in and actually led by one at halftime after Jeffery Taylor (21 points) beat the buzzer with a dunk.
WKU, which lost two earlier games to SEC teams, broke a 42-42 tie and went ahead to stay on a 3-pointer by A.J. Slaughter (27 points) with 16:33 to go. Twice after that the Commodores got a close as a point and two other times got within two but never managed to pull even.
“This was a big win against a quality opponent that is going to do good things in the SEC,” Hilltoppers’ coach Ken McDonald said. “They’re a terrific team and they’re well-coached.”
Not even a bold move by their coach, though, was enough to produce a victory in this one.
Tennessee 75, Middle Tennessee State 54
J.P. Prince made four of five field goal attempts in the second half as the ninth-ranked Volunteers tripled a seven-point halftime lead.
Prince, who had not scored in double figures in any game this season, had a team-high 17 points for Tennessee (7-1) in 22 minutes off the bench. His six field goals (on eight attempts) also were a team-high. His steal and dunk with 10:35 to play stretched the lead to 14 (55-41). He later capped a 13-4 run, which extended the margin past 20, with five straight points.
“I was really happy for J.P.,” coach Bruce Pearl said. “He just hasn't been as productive. It's been talked about a little bit, was written about a little bit. It was all fair and right. We've been talking about it, and so he'll feel better about himself now.”
Bobby Maze added 12 points, and Wayne Chism and Cameron Tatum each had nine for the Volunteers, who shot 50 percent (27-for-54) for the game.
Blue Raiders’ forward Desmond Yates was 11-for-19 from the field and led al scorers with 26 points.
MTSU (3-6) made just nine of 28 shots in the second half and was no closer than 10 points over the final 16 minutes.