Rodney Watson exuded enthusiasm about Vanderbilt’s upcoming basketball season – and he was on the losing end Monday night.
Though his Southern Indiana squad fell 77-40  to the Commodores in an exhibition game, the second-year head coach was impressed with how Vanderbilt shut his team down.
“Their style of defense is very underestimated because they do a terrific job of guarding the arc and keeping the ball on one side. They never let us get the ball reversed,” Watson said. “If they do that in the SEC, there is going to be a lot of happy nights in this building and other buildings as well.”
It was the fewest points Vanderbilt has allowed since giving up 41 to Chaminade last year.
A combination of length and size in both man and zone defenses kept the Screaming Eagles scoreless for nearly nine minutes and forced 30 turnovers.
“I certainly think the story of tonight was our defense,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Even while our offense was stagnant, our defense was really, really good. ... They are a better team. (Southern Indiana) played Illinois to a nine-point game last week and it might have been closer than nine points. I saw the tape, it was a good game. And I had absolutely no thoughts that our game would end up like this.”
Southern Indiana, which went 24-3 last season and finished ninth in the final Division II Top 25 poll, fell to Illinois 76-67 in its first exhibition contest.
It didn’t take long to see why the Screaming Eagles were in that game. Their size – they have six players who are at least 6-foot-6, including 6-11 Nick Evans – and ability to grab offensive rebounds kept them around in the first half against Vanderbilt.
Despite making just six baskets in the first half, the Screaming Eagles had 23 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive end. In the second half they had just five offensive rebounds.
“They really worked hard on the offensive boards early in the first half and maybe we weren’t ready for how hard they were going to go,” Vanderbilt forward Jeffery Taylor said. “But we came into the locker room (at halftime) and that was really an emphasis of the coaches, really box out and get the loose balls. When we did clear the boards well that is when we started getting our fastbreak opportunities.”
It was the last exhibition tuneup for Vanderbilt, which opens the season at home on Friday against Presbyterian.
The offense still seems to be a work in progress. The Commodores had just 10 points through the first 10 minutes of the game.
“Some of that is my fault because we have been adding (offensive schemes) at a crazy rate,” Stallings said. “When you start adding things, their minds become more active and their feet become slower because they have to think about things. So I take the blame for that.”
With the game tied at 16-16 with 5:38 to go in the first half, Vanderbilt went on a 15-0 run. Brad Tinsley scored six points during the spurt, including igniting the offense and an announced crowd of 11,497 at Memorial Gym with a one-handed slam after picking up a steal.
“I felt like that kind of set the tone for us,” Tinsley said. “It is always good to go out on a good note in the first half and take that motivation into the second half.”
Vanderbilt scored the first eight points after halftime and took a 39-16 lead with 17:01 remaining. Southern Indiana got no closer than 15 points after that.
The Screaming Eagles finished with just 16 field goals and were 1-for-17 from 3-point range.
John Jenkins led Vanderbilt with 20 points, Taylor added 13 and Tinsley had 10. C.J. Trotter scored 10 for Southern Indiana.
Vanderbilt women play final exhibition contest Tuesday
The Commodores will host Union, an NAIA school out of Jackson, at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
It will be their last exhibition game before they hosts Howard in the season opener at 2 p.m. Sunday. VU cruised in its first exhibition game last week, defeating Delta State 73-52. Freshman Christina Foggie scored 14 points and seniors Jence Rhoads and Hannah Tuomi added 13 and 12, respectively.