It was not exactly a coming out party for Vanderbilt’s young players. It was a chance to show up a little more prominently on the stat sheet — for a time, at least.
Dai-Jon Parker, Josh Henderson and Shelby Moats all established personal scoring bests in their brief careers as the 18th-ranked Commodores went back to more experienced players late and held off winless but determined Monmouth 95-73 Friday before 12,807 at Memorial Gymnasium.
“We really got out-competed, particularly in the second half,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “That’s disappointing that their guys tried harder than our guys did.
“It’s a very rare thing that you come out of a game winning and almost feeling like you lost, but that’s how I feel. I feel that we really got out-worked, out-toughed, out-played and we won because we had superior talent and superior players — size, strength, athleticism, skill — but we lost the fight portion of the game.”
Vanderbilt (5-1) shot 68 percent from the field in the first half and led by 23 at intermission but was tested for a stretch in the second by Monmouth, a team flush with youth in its own right.
In their first season under former VU assistant King Rice the Hawks (0-6) occasionally had two walk-ons on the floor together. Others times four of their five in action had not played college basketball prior to this season.
Even so, they outscored Vanderbilt by one, 46-45, over the final 20 minutes and at one point got within 11 points.
“When you don’t play good defense it leaves you with a bad feeling,” VU forward Jeffery Taylor said. “I’m really disappointed in the way we played defense, especially a stretch there in the second half when we couldn’t get a stop at all.
“It’s definitely something we need to fix or we’re going to get beat here pretty soon.”
Parker, a freshman guard, was 4-for-21 from the field and scored 12 total points in the first five games but made four of his six and had 10 points in this one. Henderson, a redshirt-freshman post player, more than doubled his point total for the season (eight) as he made all four shots he attempted and finished with 10.
Moats, a freshman forward, had appeared in only two games and had not scored. He was on the floor early in this one and made the third of the Commodores’ eight first-half 3-pointers.
Freshman guard Kedren Johnson made two of three 3-pointers and doubled his total in that regard.
“You sit there and you’re watching and you’re watching and now Dai-Jon’s hitting 3s and Kedren’s hitting 3s and they haven’t been doing that yet,” Rice said. “… Then I’m like, ‘Man.’ They started pulling away from us a little bit.
“… When you’re playing coach Stallings’ team and he puts his [best] guys back in, you know that you’re doing the right things. And [Stallings] really put his guys back in.”
Those guys included Taylor (16 points), John Jenkins (a team-high 18 points) and Brad Tinsley (16 points), all of whom scored at or near their season averages,
Junior Jesse Steele led Monmouth with a career-high 25. Ed Waite, also a junior, added 15, including four in an 11-0 second-half stretch, which cut the Commodores’ lead to from 26 to 15.
“When you’re down like that and you know how good the [other] team is … I got worried a couple times that it could have gone … and they could have gotten up by 40 or 50 and it would have been ugly,” Rice said. “Our kids just kept fighting, kept trying to get us the ‘W’ and got us back in the game.”
In so doing they forced Vanderbilt’s younger players out of it.
• Senior forward Steve Tchiengang sat out due to symptoms of a concussion.
He was hit in the chin during Monday’s game against and experienced dizziness during Wednesday’s workout. Stallings said Tchiengang’s status is day-to-day and that he would be evaluated prior to Saturday’s workout.
He started the first five games and averaged 6.2 points and 6.4 rebounds.