With eight minutes left, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings stomped his feet, clapped his hands and shouted, ‘Wake up!’”
Stallings’ plea — albeit late — went unanswered as the No. 7 Commodores suffered a stunning 71-58 loss to Cleveland State on Sunday at Memorial Gymnasium.
Vanderbilt (1-1), playing in a regional game of the Legends Classic, looked out of sync and ill-prepared for the Vikings’ man-to-man defensive pressure.
Many mistakes prevented the Commodores from ever taking the lead against a team that won 27 games last year and captured the Horizon League championship. They turned the ball over 21 times, were outrebounded on both ends and shot just 35 percent from the field overall. The starting five missed 27 of 42 shots.
The opportunities were there but the Commodores failed to convert open jumpers, layups and 3-pointers — all less than 34 hours after defeating Oregon in their season opener.
“All the things that we would like our team to do that we didn’t do, they did,” Stallings said. “They got what they deserved and that was a good victory. They outplayed us from start to finish. The team that deserved to win that game, won that game [Cleveland State]. They played with far more emotion, intensity and toughness than we did and I commend them for it.”
Thirteen first-half turnovers — Vanderbilt’s most in two years — played into the hands of Cleveland State, which jumped out to a 16-point first-half lead and led 37-24 at halftime.
Eight Vanderbilt players committed at least one giveaway, paced by Jeffery Taylor’s six. The Vikings had seven players with one or more steals, led by D’Aundary Brown’s seven. Brown guarded Taylor for most of the game, holding him to nine points on 3-of-8 shooting.
“We continually tried to cross the ball over in front of them and they just continually kept taking it,” Stallings said. “I wish they would have sent us a Federal Express package that said, ‘We are going to take your ball if you cross it over in front of us because we’re good.’ Apparently we didn’t get the memo because we kept doing it.”
Early in the second half, the Commodores showed signs of life, going on a 14-2 run over a five-minute span. Lance Goulbourne blocked a 3-pointer and on other end, slammed home a dunk to cut the deficit to 41-38 with 13:31 left.
“At that point, I felt like we were going to win the game, to be honest,” Goulbourne said. “We came out [of halftime] fired up, ready to go, with intensity. After I got that dunk ... I really felt like we had the game.”
Trevon Harmon snapped the Vikings’ four-minute scoring drought with a tough contested jumper but Steve Tchiengang pulled the Commodores back within three.
They never got any closer. The Vikings scored the next seven points, benefiting from timely offensive rebounds and tough contested shots.
“We needed a couple rebounds to kind of get back into it,” Stallings said. “That was our one chance, really, to get back into the game and we just didn’t take enough advantage of it.”
What remained of an announced crowd of 13,503 began filing out the doors when Jeremy Montgomery drilled a 3-pointer to give the Vikings a 12-point lead with 2:52 remaining. Montgomery finished with 10 points as Brown led Cleveland State with 18 points. Harmon added 11.
John Jenkins had a team-high 17 points for Vanderbilt but looked out of sorts, way off the mark on many 3-pointers, including a rare air ball. He was 5-of-14, making just 2-of-8 from long range as Montgomery pestered him. Still, Jenkins surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career. The junior is the 42nd Commodore to reach the milestone.
“If you give him space, he’ll knock it down and [Vanderbilt’s offense] kind of flows on him,” Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said.
Goulbourne had 11 points and eight rebounds but he could have had more if not for a self-admitted lack of concentration and execution on missed layups. Steve Tchiengang led Vanderbilt with 10 rebounds.
The Commodores obviously missed 6-foot-11 center Festus Ezeli, who is out for at least month with a knee injury. They were outrebounded 36-35 and let the Vikings grab offensive rebounds at the worst times. They finished with 10 offensive boards for 17 second-chance points.
Vanderbilt has another short turnaround as it hosts Bucknell at 7 p.m. Tuesday in another Legends Classic regional game. Despite the loss, the Commodores are guaranteed a spot in the championship round next weekend in New Jersey. They’ll be joined by North Carolina State, Texas and Oregon State.
With their 20-game non-conference home winning streak snapped, chances are the Commodores won’t look past Bucknell. Not after Sunday’s dismantling.
“I don’t think they listened to me when I told them how good this team was that we were playing,” Stallings said. “It was a little bit of a disappointment because some of them have been around here for a long time. You don’t just fall off a turnip truck and win 27 games. “And maybe we were completely ready and just got beat by a team a lot better than us. They were sure a lot better than us [Sunday].”