Vanderbilt obeyed the scouting report on Julian Mavunga – almost to a fault. All the attention on Miami-Ohio’s double-double machine allowed Brian Sullivan to have a career night.
Luckily for the Commodores, the one-man show wasn’t enough for the Redhawks. Vanderbilt held on for a 69-62 victory on Monday night in front of 13,162 at Memorial Gymnasium.
In their last non-conference game before Southeastern Conference play begins Saturday with Auburn coming to town, the Commodores (10-4) had trouble containing Sullivan. The freshman guard, listed at 5-foot-11, went off, scoring a career-high 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.
Mavunga entered as one of just two players in the country averaging a double-double (19.9 points, 10.4 rebounds). The 6-foot-8 forward got his numbers, with 14 points and 11 rebounds. But the double teams seemed to be effective as he had just two points at halftime, had six turnovers and finished scoring a season-low.
“I would have bet on a victory if you would have told him we were going to hold him to 14,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “We were selling house to keep it out of Mavunga’s hands and keep him out of the lane and keep him off the foul line. We were extremely pleased with the job we did on him.
"The little kid got hot and then he was making everything he looked at. The basket had to look nine feet wide to him.”
Sullivan came off the bench to score 12 of the team’s first 18 points. He gave the Redhawks (4-8) a four-point lead on his fourth 3-pointer off a screen three feet beyond the arc with 7:57 left in the first half.
That led to a timeout by Stallings and a defensive adjustment -- 6-foot-7 Jeffery Taylor guarded Sullivan. It did the trick – temporarily – as Sullivan failed to get off a 3 the rest of the half.
Down 20-16, Vanderbilt scored nine straight points, five from Taylor and four from Steve Tchiengang. After two Tchiengang free throws, Taylor sandwiched a 3-pointer and a fastbreak layup around a hook shot from Tchiengang.
The Commodores never trailed after that but never pulled away either.
The Redhawks got within two in the second half only to see Vanderbilt go on another 9-0 run. John Jenkins scored five straight points and Taylor added four as his putback pushed the lead to 52-41 with 9:32 remaining.
Back came the Redhawks one more time. Despite the defensive adjustments Sullivan still found ways to score. With ball fakes and long arching shots over the likes of 6-foot-8 Lance Goulbourne, he added four more 3s in the second half for the most against Vanderbilt since Illinois-Chicago’s Josh Mayo also made eight on Dec. 3, 2008.
“He was lights out,” Jenkins said of Sullivan. “That was crazy. He did a great job of getting open. He hit some crazy deep shots. He is a good player.”
Sullivan’s last 3-pointer cut the lead to 63-58 with 2:33 to go. The Redhawks had a chance to pull closer but after a Festus Ezeli block – one of four – Will Sullivan missed a jumper. Brad Tinsley then iced the game by scoring six of his 11 points at the free-throw line over the last 67 seconds.
Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer (20.1 ppg) finished with five 3-pointers and a game-high 26 points. Taylor had 11, a relatively quiet night for the league’s third leading scorer (18.0 ppg).
“I was more worried about Taylor,” Miami coach Charlie Coles said. “I felt with his athleticism, he would hurt us more. Jenkins is fantastic. Maybe I can have someone ride back with us – I’ll fly you back, and you can tell our guys who Jenkins is. When the coach screams, ‘Jenkins,’ you should probably cover him. I didn’t think our players knew who he was – that he is shooting 44 percent, averages 20 points a game, and is All-SEC. Apparently, we didn’t tell our guys that. We don’t do a scouting report.”
Vanderbilt did – and more than enough of it was executed to secure the win.
• With Ezeli’s block on Mavunga’s jumper with 8:16 left, he moved ahead of former All-American Will Perdue for the most blocks in school history. Perdue blocked 157 from 1984-88.
Ezeli, a 6-foot-11 center from Nigeria, briefly waved to the crowd who gave him a roaring standing ovation when the record was announced during a media timeout. He now has 159 blocks.
“That is what I like to do – I like to protect the paint,” he said. “It feels good to come out there and help my teammates out. That is what that [record] signifies.”
He was playing in just his fourth game of the season due to knee injuries and scored two points on 1-of-5 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds.
“[My knees] feel good right now,” he said. “I’m just working on getting my game back together. I’m still a little behind on my offensive game as you can tell. But it is coming. I’m feeling good, though.”
• Coming off a huge win at then-No. 14 Marquette last Thursday, the Commodores matched their longest win streak of the season at four games.
“This could have been seen as a trap game, I guess,” Jenkins said. “We beat a good team at their house the other night so everybody is probably thinking how are they going to respond? I think we responded pretty well. Not our best effort but we got the win.”
• Miami beat Vanderbilt on the glass, with a 31-27 rebounding edge. It marked the first time this season the Commodores have won despite getting outrebounded.