Without 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeli clogging up the lane for at least the next six weeks, Vanderbilt will have to find different ways to score.
On Monday, the answer was a mixture of perimeter shooting, speed and balance as the seventh-ranked Commodores’ smaller lineups buried Xavier (La.) in a 102-62 romp in their lone exhibition game at Memorial Gymnasium.
Vanderbilt, which opens its season at 9 p.m. Friday against visiting Oregon, drained 12 3-pointers, scored 14 fastbreak points and got 54 points from its bench.
“We were able to get the ball in transition and go, which we like to do. As a matter of fact I would have liked for us to have done it a lot more than we did,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “This needs to be a team that runs. This needs to be a team that pushes the pace, pushes the tempo and tries to get the game played in conversion.
"At times, we were very good at it. Then, at times, we slowed up, I thought, unnecessarily.”
The Commodores started fast, scoring on their first 15 possessions. They hit five 3-pointers along the way and built a 34-11 lead with 11:43 left in the first half. Most of their offense, especially early, was manufactured in transition or drives inside — as the halfcourt offense didn’t last long.
They sunk 10 of their 12 3-pointers before halftime and nine players made shots behind the arc, where Vanderbilt shot 48 percent.
“We’ll make a concerted effort to get the ball inside whether that is throwing it in or driving it in,” forward Jeffery Taylor said. “If we are making our 3s, that is fine. But we also need to get to the free-throw line.”
Vanderbilt started with two guards (Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins), two forwards (Taylor and Lance Goulbourne) and 6-foot-9 Steve Tchiengang at center. Stallings rotated in smaller units, running with two point guards, sophomore Kyle Fuller and Kedren Johnson. At times, the backcourt was three-fold with freshman Dai-Jon Parker, who Stallings said can double as a point guard.
Stallings noted he would have preferred to play other variations of lineups but foul trouble handcuffed him from doing so. Rod Odom, a 6-foot-9 forward, and Parker, each had four fouls, and Taylor and Jenkins both had three.
Vanderbilt finished with 26 fouls as Xavier, a NAIA opponent, shot 35 free throws.
“The two troubling spots for me were the number of fouls and the things that caused the fouls,” Stallings said. “I thought we were sort of lackadaisical a number of times running back in transition when we were converting from offense back to defense, in the first half especially. It was almost like we were caught by surprise that we pushed the ball up the court. I got frustrated with that a couple of times because that is really nothing more than awareness and energy.”
Taylor led the way with 17 points in 16 minutes. Johnson added 16, making 9-of-10 free throws. Jenkins scored 15 points and freshman reserve forward Shelby Moats had 10.
Vanderbilt outrebounded Xavier 41-20, as Goulbourne snagged eight boards to go along with eight points. The 6-foot-8 forward played at the center spot a little and Stallings said his defensive rebounding and presence will be “extremely important” while Ezeli sits.
Ezeli sprained his MCL and PCL ligaments in his right knee during practice two weeks ago and is hopeful to return during a three-game homestand in mid-December.
“[With Ezeli out] we have to be more disciplined on defense and sound. We can’t get beat off the dribble,” Goulbourne said. “Offensively, sometimes our offense runs the spread and we can throw it to him and he’ll get a bucket for us. We don’t have that luxury right now. It is going to be an adjustment. We’ve been practicing without him for a little bit now so we’ve kind of gotten used to it. We just have to keep getting better.”