Jermaine Beal parlayed this NCAA Tournament experience into some serious wizardry in the final six minutes against Georgia.
What is it about Georgia that brings out the worst in the Commodores? A win's a win, but damn - that was ugly. Down six with 53 seconds to play, the team needed a Shan Foster vs. Mississippi State type performance to pull this one out. While the team couldn't rely on a barrage of eyes-closed, one handed, behind-the-back three pointers like they did in '08, Andre Walker and Jermaine Beal bailed the team out with big shots and smart plays - although some Georgia missed free throws helped too.
In the end, the team walks away with a victory and retains their one game lead over Florida in the race for second place in the SEC East. Vanderbilt played slop-ball for 39 out of 45 minutes and still, improbably, came away with the win. Let's recap:
- Andre Walker had his best game as a Commodore. Walker is usually the glue guy, but tonight he shone through as arguably the most valuable player on the court. His stat line is impressive - 17 points, six rebounds, three blocks, 5-7 from the field and 6-6 from the line - but that doesn't accurately measure his impact on the game. He hit a dagger three that gave Vandy the chance to tie the game in the final minute, and kept key rebounds alive that led to second chance points for the 'Dores. I hereby cast my vote for Walker to win ManCrush of the Game tonight.
- What happened to the interior defense? The Bulldogs beat up Vanderbilt with sharp passes at the basket that led to easy layups. They kept possessions alive with offensive rebounds - 14 to be exact - and dominated the boards for the first 38 minutes of the game. Despite the play of Trey Thompkins, Coach Stallings kept Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang mostly on the bench, rather than throwing them in to frustrate Bulldogs' big man.
- What happened to the zone defense? When the 'Dores went man-to-man, they got lost in Georgia's never-ending maze of screens, allowing for open jumpers and easy passes to the basket (see above). When Vanderbilt played zone, the Bulldogs were comparatively stifled, and much of their success came off broken plays or long threes. While the zone was markedly more successful, the team relied on man-to-man way too often in important instances. The team's failure to get stops using man-to-man almost cost them the game.
- Jermaine Beal remains the team's smartest player. Beal knew exactly what to do when playing from behind in the final minute, taking what Georgia gave him and manipulating their mistakes. With the game on the line, he was money from the free throw line. A big recovery for the senior after a pair of sub-par games.
- John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli got their swagger back. Jenkins hit big shots in the clutch - including a big three to start overtime - shaking off the freshman mistakes that hurt him against Kentucky. Festus was a force in the paint with the refs calling the game loosely underneath the baskets, chipping in four points, six rebounds, and a block - including one monster dunk after a gritty offensive board.
- A.J. Ogilvy needs to finish stronger at the rim. Ogilvy did most of his damage from the line tonight, but he could have been even more effective if he was able to convert some of these fouls into +1 situations. On several occasions A.J. saw his shots roll off the rim after the whistle blew - if he can convert one or two more of these each game, then Vanderbilt will have a much more comfortable time rounding out SEC play.