John Jenkins knew he would be asked to carry more of the offensive load this season for Vanderbilt.
Evidently the 6-foot-4 guard is going to pick up shot blocking, too. Well, at least for one night.
Jenkins had a team-high three blocks in addition to 19 points as the Commodores held off Alabama-Huntsville for a 69-53 exhibition victory Wednesday night at Memorial Gym.
Jenkins, the SEC's 2010 Sixth Man of the Year, had just five blocks all of last season. Against Alabama-Huntsville, he was slapping more shots than 6-foot-11 teammate Festus Ezeli.
“I was telling him I had more blocks than he did (Wednesday) night so I am feeling kind of good,” Jenkins said. “Mine are the little child blocks. His go into the stands.”
Ezeli had just one block but turned up the intensity on offense, scoring 12 points, which matched his career-high. Both Jenkins and Ezeli are adjusting to starting roles at the college level. Ezeli, who has blocked 65 shots over the last two years, will be called onto score more.
He struggled to get things going early offensively against Alabama-Huntsville, a Division II program, but chalked it up to “jitters.”
“Everybody had them,” Ezeli said. “You could tell the first five minutes we came out there and didn’t get a score. It was like a hot potato. Everybody was throwing it around.”
Ezeli looked better in the second half, fueling a 13-0 run with back-to-back baskets on a hook shot and an emphatic two-handed slam.
“He can be a low-post threat and he can score down there and he has in practice consistently,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “He is big and long and he affects shots even when he doesn’t block them. He is going to be a valuable player for us this year.”
Vanderbilt was sluggish early, missing its first five shots. The slow start and Alabama-Huntsville’s outside shooting allowed the Chargers to hang around for a majority of the first half. They trailed just 13-12 with 9:08 left before halftime.
But after an offensive foul negated a Chargers' basket, Vanderbilt grabbed some momentum with back-to-back 3-pointers from Jenkins and Brad Tinsley. That was the beginning of an 18-4 run over the next eight minutes and the Commodores led 31-19 at halftime.
In the second half, Alabama-Huntsville trimmed the lead to 39-32 with less than 14 minutes left. But Vanderbilt again responded with a scoring spurt, using that 13-0 run to grab its biggest lead, 55-34, with 8:14 to go.
Eleven Commodores scored and Stallings played all 15 available players. Darshawn McClellan did not dress. Stallings said the senior came to him earlier in the week asking if he could redshirt this season. The 6-foot-7 forward from Fresno, Calif. was used sparingly last year, averaging less than two points a game.
In addition to Jenkins and Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor also scored in double-digit figures, finishing with 11 points. Zane Campbell led Alabama-Huntsville with 16 points.
Vanderbilt’s next game is another exhibition contest at home, against another Division II school, Southern Indiana, at 7 p.m. Monday.
Vanderbilt's women's team plays its first exhibition game Thursday.
The Commodores kick off their exhibition schedule with a home game at 7 p.m. against Delta State.
Vanderbilt, ranked 24th in the Associated Press preseason poll, is coming off a 23-11 record and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Leading the way is senior guard Jence Rhoads, who averaged 13.8 points and 5.0 assists last year and was selected to the media’s preseason All-Southeastern Conference First Team.
The Commodores already suffered a blow when 6-foot-4 freshman Clair Watkins sustained a season-ending knee injury during the team’s first day of practice.
Even without Watkins and 6-8 freshman Kayci Ferriss, a Smith County product who is recovering from a stress fracture, available this season, Vanderbilt has six players 6-feet or taller. It is one of the tallest teams under Melanie Balcomb, who enters her ninth year as the Commodores’ head coach.
“I’m looking forward to a young team that keeps getting better,” Balcomb said. “We just don’t have enough upperclassmen right now and not enough experience but as we get it I think it could be a really exciting year.”