It took Vanderbilt 30 years to score fewer than 35 points in a men’s basketball game.
Now twice in less than three months the Commodores have turned back time and paid homage to the pre-shot clock era.
Their second 33-point performance of the season — the latest coming Saturday in a road loss to Arkansas — leaves many wondering how things could get much worse.
It might be when the Southeastern Conference’s most potent offense comes to town Tuesday (8 p.m., ESPNU). Ole Miss (13-2, 2-0) waltzes into Memorial Gymnasium with a five-game win streak and fresh off an upset of then-No. 10 Missouri. The Rebels lead the conference with an average of 82.4 points a game and has the SEC’s top scorer in Marshall Henderson (18.6 points per game).
“If they get 80, we’re in trouble based on what we’ve been doing offensively,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “We better not let them get 80. If they do we somehow need to get 81.”
That hasn’t happened this season. Vanderbilt has scored 80 points just once — in a season-opening 80-65 victory over Nicholls State. The Commodores (6-8, 0-2) have scored more than 70 points just three times.
Conversely, last year through the first 14 games, they had eclipsed the 70-point mark nine times. But with losing its top six scorers from a year ago, Vanderbilt has lingered around the 60-point mark more often than not.
The Commodores rank last in the SEC in scoring offense (57.6 points per game) and field-goal percentage (40.2). The 56-33 loss to Arkansas — on 10-of-40 shooting — matched a 33-point performance against Marist in November. Both were the lowest point totals since Vanderbilt scored 31 in a two-point loss to Mississippi State on Jan. 30, 1982.
Before this season, the Commodores had scored fewer than 40 points just once since the introduction of the shot clock in 1985-86.
If they keep this pace, they’re on track to become the first Vanderbilt team to average fewer than 60 points for a season since the 1949-50 squad averaged 58.6 points in 25 games.
“I think we’re certainly better than what we’ve shown at times,” Stallings said. “We have guys who make them at practice and make them in shooting drills. Then get to the games and whether they tighten up, whether it is inexperience, or the crowds, or defense, whatever it might be, maybe it gets them rushed up a bit. You just have to believe as a coach they’ll start falling at some point. Maybe we’re due for a bunch of them to fall in at this point. We’ve certainly missed a great number of open shots.”
To make matters worse, the Commodores might be without their leading scorer.
Sophomore point guard Kedren Johnson (15.7 points per game) injured his shoulder against Arkansas and did not practice on Sunday. Stallings isn’t certain if Johnson will play on Tuesday, citing the player's pain tolerance as the determining factor.
Johnson injured his right (shooting) shoulder when he went after a loose ball with 6:12 left. As he tried to push down on the ball, an Arkansas player pulled up with it, causing a subluxation — or partial dislocation of the joint. He suffered nearly an identical injury the first practice after Christmas while trying to make a defensive stop against a teammate. He didn’t miss any game time, returning three days later to play against Butler.
“They were very similar — almost the exact same thing,” athletic trainer Shannon Gordon said on Monday. “He just really re-aggravated what he had done earlier. Actually, his strength and range of motion returned very quickly. By the time we got back home from Arkansas, he was good. He was sore. But his strength was back to normal. He had a quicker recovery time on this one than his first one actually.”
Stallings said he is looking at making several changes in the starting lineup and Johnson’s availability will determine some of those.
Johnson, guards Kyle Fuller (11.0 points per game) and Kevin Bright (5.9) and forward Rod Odom (9.4) have started every game this season. At center, 6-foot-11 Josh Henderson (4.1) has made 10 starts while 6-foot-8 Shelby Moats (3.9) has started four games. Freshman Sheldon Jeter has provided a spark off the bench, averaging 8.7 points in the last three games.
With the offensive woes, Vanderbilt’s defense often gets overlooked. The Commodores allow just 59.3 points a game, which is second in the SEC only to Florida.
“This is a really hard-working group,” Moats said. “It might not always translate on offense and on the court when you guys are watching. But I’ve never seen such dedication in the offseason in the practice gym. We’re working hard. I think it just comes with time. We’ve got a lot of young guys with not a lot of experience. We just got to figure some of that out. I think we do have good shooters. ... If we can get guys with the right mental approach to the game then we’ll be fine physically.”