Kevin Stallings already had quoted Roy Williams and Yogi Berra during his postgame remarks. Rather than go for a trifecta, Vanderbilt’s men’s basketball coach instead opted to paraphrase the Under Armour slogan “We must protect this house.”
“If you’re going to do anything in this league, you have to protect yourself at home,” Stallings said. “We did.”
They did indeed, but an already-battered lineup took a few more lumps on the way to an 84-74 victory over Ole Miss before 14,134 at Memorial Gymnasium on Wednesday.
Such is the state of the Commodores (13-4, 2-2 in the Southeastern Conference), in fact, that they might want to consider practicing in full body armor as they prepare for a non-conference game Saturday against St. Mary’s.
Andre Walker missed his fifth straight game with an ankle injury, and Steve Tchiengang was limited to nine minutes (all in the first half) due to an ankle injury of his own.
Festus Ezeli, who has battled a knee problem went down 1:10 into the contest after he blocked a shot. He briefly left the bench area but returned a little more than three minutes later and managed to finish the game. He was the only Commodores’ starter who played fewer than 30 minutes, though.
With limited numbers, Vanderbilt still answered several Ole Miss runs, the last of which gave the Rebels (12-7, 0-4) a 66-65 lead with 6:43 to play. From there, the Commodores finished on a 19-8 run jump-started by a 3-pointer from John Jenkins, who played 39 minutes.
They did it with one of their best rebounding efforts of the season, by limiting turnovers after halftime and by getting to the foul line often — and making shots once they got there.
“We hung around and hung around,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “But the one guy we can’t leave open is John Jenkins. We left him open and he made us pay. That’s what good players do.”
Jenkins’ go-ahead 3-pointer was his fourth of the contest (in five attempts). The Commodores’ leading scorer finished with a game-high 20 points, which was nothing out of the ordinary.
What made the difference were things like Ezeli making more than three times as many free throws as field goals. A career 51 percent shooter from the line, he made 10 of 12 from there and just three of six shots from the field as he played through obvious discomfort with the knee.
“He was in pain,” Stallings said. “… He would have dunked about four of those balls, and he couldn’t even jump up and dunk,” Stallings said. “So there’s an issue, but I loved how he played.
“… We might have to have him start shooting technical fouls now.”
Another difference was the rebounding.
With Ezeli hurting and Tchiengang out, Lance Goulbourne played more in the low post than usual and collected a career-high 16 boards, which coincidentally was the exact margin Vanderbilt had over Ole Miss (41-26). That from a team that had been outrebounded by an average of more than four in its first three conference contests.
Within the game itself, the Commodores overcame some first-half carelessness and took much better care of the ball in the second half.
Their 10 first-half turnover led to 17 Ole Miss points in the first half, which ended with the Rebels on top 42-39. They gave it up just five times in the second half, which they opened with an 8-0 run.
“We slowed down and became really stagnant. That’s when we started turning the ball over and making bad decisions,” junior forward Jeffery Taylor said. “… It seems to happen a lot to us in games. We need to really address it, work on it, fix it, do something because it really hurts us.”
It’s hardly the only thing that hurts at the moment.
• Goulbourne’s rebound total matched the most ever by a Vanderbilt player during the Stallings era. Anthony Williams first got there in 2000 and David Przybyszewski matched it in 2004 — both against non-conference opponents.
“That’s some crazy numbers,” Jenkins said. “I didn’t know he had that much. I knew he had a lot.”
Goulbourne added 14 points for his first career double-double.
• Recently hired football coach James Fraklin addressed the crowd at halftime and implored those in the student section to create the type of home field advantage at Vanderbilt Stadium that currently exists in Memorial Gymnasium.
“We have a plan; we have a vision for what this program can be,” Franklin said. “… I guarantee bright days are ahead.”