The freshman saved the day – again.
Out of sync and struggling on offense, No. 23 Vanderbilt turned to 6-foot-4 Stephanie Holzer over and over in the second half Thursday against visiting Samford.
The reigning Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week didn’t disappoint, scoring a career-high 26 points in her first collegiate start to guide the Commodores to a 70-60 victory  at Memorial Gym.
One game removed from 20 points and 11 rebounds, Holzer picked up two quick fouls and played just nine minutes in the first half. Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb let her loose in the second half, and Holzer scored 19 points after intermission, including 11 straight for the second consecutive game.
She scored 15 of 17 Vanderbilt points late in the contest giving the Commodores a 66-53 lead with 2:41 to go.
“I wish she would have played more minutes in the first half. You could see why I saved her, right?” Balcomb said. “Because I knew we were going to need her.”
Vanderbilt (2-0) led 17-5 just four minutes into the game but then things got sloppy. The two teams combined for 19 fouls and 29 turnovers in the first half. Vanderbilt turned the ball over 17 times, including several on offensive fouls.
The Commodores also went nearly five minutes without a point and more than six minutes without a making a shot from the field. Despite its own miscues, Samford (0-2) took advantage and trailed just 26-22 at halftime. The Bulldogs tied it 28-28 on a 3-pointer from Shelbyville product Hannah Dawson with 17:43 to go.
“We kept giving them second chances,” Vanderbilt guard Jasmine Lister said. “We weren’t boxing out. We would kind of rest after they shot the ball. That kind of let them get back into the game after we got a lead.”
Vanderbilt came to life after that, scoring on eight of nine possessions. Holzer, who also grabbed nine rebounds, and 6-1 Hannah Tuomi exploited their size, as the Commodores outscored Samford 40-16 in the paint.
“We really didn’t have an answer,” Samford coach Mike Morris said. “We couldn’t grow at halftime.”
Vanderbilt took its largest lead with 8:44 left, 53-40 on a basket from Holzer. Samford, which won 23 games last year and advanced to the second round of the WNIT, didn’t give up though. Thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers, the Bulldogs cut the deficit to six points a couple minutes later.
Holzer was just getting warmed up though. She hit two jumpers, made a layup and converted a 3-point play to push the lead back to 13 points with less than three minutes left.
“One thing that (assistant coach Vicky) Picott always talks about is knowing how to play like a sophomore, not a freshman,” Holzer, who redshirted last season after breaking her ankle, said. “I think I get my confidence from my teammates, though. Just having them trust in me and believe in me I feel more confident on top of that.”
The teams combined for 48 turnovers, with Vanderbilt committing 25. There were also 33 fouls in the game, including a technical foul on Morris in the second half.
Tuomi had 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and Lister added 14 points. Savannah Hill, from Elora, had 20 points and Murfreesboro native Shelby Campbell added 10 points.
Along with Holzer, University of Georgia transfer Angela Puleo also made her first start for Vanderbilt. Puleo was in for the injured Christina Foggie and Holzer started in place of Tiffany Clarke.
Clarke just scored just six points in the Commodores’ season opener on Sunday and had just two points in seven minutes against Samford.
From the way Holzer has played in two games, she might be making the case to become a fixture in the starting lineup.
“You got to keep producing. It is what have you done for me lately, right? You never what is going to happen,” Balcomb said, not committing to penciling in Holzer as a permanent starter. “(Holzer) had been building up to this. I didn’t want to start her early just because she wasn’t practicing long enough and I didn’t know how many minutes she could play. Those first exhibition games she showed she could play those minutes and she was ready to start.”
• Foggie sat out the game due to a strained tendon in her calf muscle. The guard had started in both exhibition games and Vanderbilt’s season opener, averaging 18 points. She joined fellow guard Jence Rhoads (strained hamstring) on the bench. Rhoads did not play in the season opener. Both players are day-to-day and are questionable to play in Sunday’s game at No. 16 Florida State.
• With Hill, Campbell and Dawson all hailing from the Volunteer State, Samford, which is located in Birmingham, Ala., had a strong cheering section in attendance. The girls basketball team from Blackman High, Campbell’s alma mater, sat in the stands and accounted for much of the hooting and hollering.