Vanderbilt got up — literally. Way up.
It just had a hard time getting away.
The Commodores exploited their advantages in size and athleticism for a consistent string of dunks and blocked shots against Middle Tennessee State, their final non-conference opponent of the season. The above-the-rim approach was evident almost from the outset when center A.J. Ogilvy threw down a pair of slams within the first 3:08.
Even so, MTSU was within 12 and had the ball with just under six minutes to play before VU pulled out to a 73-53 victory before 12,383 at Memorial Gymnasium.
“We had a couple of set plays that we got dunks on,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “We need to take advantage of our athleticism because we have some. … I think we’re doing a pretty good job of doing it on the defensive end. We’ve never been a good shot-blocking team and this year we’re decent at blocking shots.”
Five different players hammed home a total of nine dunks and seven combined for 10 blocked shots. Sophomore center Festus Ezeli had three of each — both team-highs — and Ogilvy, Jeffery Taylor and Lance Goulbourne all had at least one of each.
“I just got into the game and played,” Ezeli said. “I wasn’t really thinking anything. I come in with the mindset to dominate every night.”
The block party has been a consistent feature since Christmas.
In 12 games before the holiday break Vanderbilt (11-3) averaged slightly more than 4.5 blocks per contest and its single-game high was nine against Chaminade. It has had 10 in each of the three contests since.
“We’re a big, strong, long team so we have to use that to our advantage,” Ezeli, who assumed the team lead with 25 blocks on the season, said.
MTSU (7-7), on the other hand, had no dunks and two blocked shots.
The Blue Raiders hung in despite the fact that they shot just 37.5 percent from the field, 21.1 percent on 3-pointers and 58.3 percent on free throws. They committed just 13 turnovers and had nearly twice as many steals (seven) as the Commodores (four). They also broke even in rebounding.
“The second half, we were battling our tail off,” coach Kermit Davis said. “We were making good moves and kept cutting the lead. We were in this game, no question. But every time we would try to make a move, we’d get caught up and miss the open shot.”
Of course, unlike Vanderbilt none of their shots were the truly high-percentage type.
Taylor was the last of Commodores to get a dunk, which was unusual given his typical propensity to produce a highlight. He did put the exclamation point on the performance with his second — his team’s last — on an alley-oop pass from Jermaine Beal with 3:22 to go and finished with a team-high 14 points.
John Jenkins added 13 off the bench. His four field goals included three 3-pointers (roughly his average) and one dunk of his own, on a breakaway with 1:23 to play in the first half.
“Everybody wants to get one,” Jenkins said. “I don’t get them every game like (Taylor) and (Ezeli) do all the time. When I get one, I think it’s pretty special.”
In this case, it was pretty common.
• Stallings joined Roy Skinner as the only coaches with at least 200 wins for Vanderbilt. With this victory he improved to 200-131 with the Commodores. Skinner won 278.
“I’ve had a lot of good players and I’ve been here for a long time,” Stallings, in his 11th season, said. “And I’m fortunate to be here. But how many losses are in that? A lot.”
• Ogilvy played a season-low 14 minutes because that’s all it took for him to foul out. It was the first time this season he picked up five fouls. Even in that limited amount of time he had 10 points, two rebounds, two blocked shots and two assists.
• Vanderbilt had five players in double figures for the second time in four games. In addition to Taylor (14), Jenkins (13) and Ogilvy (10), Jermaine Beal had 11 and Ezeli had 10.