Sam Houston State tested Vanderbilt — for a half.
After dominating their first three opponents, it might have been the wakeup call the Commodores needed, considering what possibly awaits.
Vanderbilt, which had won its first three games by an average of 43 points, eventually recovered from a sloppy first half and overwhelmed the Bearkats for a 79-56 victory on Tuesday night at Memorial Gymnasium.
Against Sam Houston State (2-1), the Commodores (4-0) quickly found themselves in their largest deficit of the season, trailing 6-2. Clinging to a 3-point second-half lead, they used an 18-0 run to squash the Bearkats’ chance at an upset.
Still, 23 turnovers was enough to grab Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb’s attention.
“We have to do a better job of not being complacent after the games,” Balcomb said. “We were complacent after the games that we have been playing that weren’t competitive. We knew as a staff that this team would be good. They have a great coach. They are going to win a lot of games. But we have to prepare that way. I’m not going to make any excuses, but we weren’t prepared the first five minutes to play at the level that we needed to play — toughness, defense, rebounding, all those things.”
The Commodores can expect to get their first full 40-minute challenge of the season this weekend at their annual Thanksgiving tournament, if things go according to plan.
Assuming Vanderbilt handles winless Lipscomb (0-5) in the first round at 2 p.m. Friday at Memorial Gymnasium, they’ll most likely see No. 12 Oklahoma in the championship game at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The Sooners (2-0), who reached the Sweet 16 last year, play Liberty (2-2) on Friday.
“Just to have an Oklahoma, a top-ranked team, year-in and year-out, in your gym, here at Vanderbilt is good for our program and good for the tournament,” Balcomb said.
Oklahoma has eight players taller than 6-feet and could pose problems for Vanderbilt’s post players.
Against Sam Houston State, that was a strength. Vanderbilt outscored the Bearkats 48-18 in the paint and won the rebounding battle 53-39. Tiffany Clarke led the way with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Stephanie Holzer added 13 points, and Christina Foggie and Clair Watkins each had 12 points.
“It was definitely the kind of [physical] play we are going to see in the SEC, so it wasn’t like anything we can’t handle,” Clarke said. “It definitely prepared us for what is to come.”