The scoreboard indicates a 10-point win, but anyone who watched last night's game knows that things were hardly that close.
Vanderbilt led by as many as 24 points with under four minutes to play, and only a South Carolina rally against the Commodore bench made this one look good on paper. Vandy shook off a putrid first half to put this game out of reach early in the second period. John Jenkins, Brad Tinsley, and Jeffery Taylor all found their stroke from long range and showcased just how effective their offense can be when they take advantage of open looks around the perimeter.
The win was Vandy's sixth win in a row. In that stretch, five have been comfortable blowouts - although only three of the victories came against teams from BCS conferences.
Though South Carolina's comeback in garbage time dulled a bit of the lustre from the win, it still stands as another strong statement for the Commodores. Vandy used a balance offensive attack that utilized their strength on the wings to control this game. Five players finished with eight points or more - an impressive balance for a team that only scored 67 points in the contest.
So what else did we learn about this team in last night's victory? Let's take a look:
1. The concentration of this team's firepower still sits behind the arc. Despite Festus Ezeli's return, Vanderbilt is still most efficient when shooting the long ball - and last night's game was a prime example of that. The 'Dores went 13-22 from three-point range and used deep shots to spark their offense, even during the medieval struggle that was the first half.
Ezeli, on the other hand, hasn't been as quiet on offense as his stats suggest. He only scored two points last night (on a monstrous dunk) but was also responsible for many of the open looks that Vandy's shooters got on the perimeter. His presence in the paint still commands double teams, and his ability to set screens and threaten opponents with the pick-and-roll helped keep South Carolina from blanketing the Commodores on the perimeter.
2. Dai-Jon Parker is quietly building himself into a key rotation player. DJP started off the season with some jitters. His athleticism has been on full display since November, but it was clear that he had trouble adjusting to NCAA play. The freshman was making mistakes and rushing shots rather than choosing his battles and letting his offense come naturally. However, what looked like a potentially disappointing season has turned around in the new year.
Parker has looked more composed now that conference play has closed in. He's slowed down his offensive game and embraced his supporting role while maintaining a high level of face-up defense on the wings. He's helped turn Vanderbilt's bench - a unit that allowed big leads to dissipate against Xavier and Louisville - into a group that can not only maintain an advantage, but also extend it (albeit against some less-than-elite teams so far).
Parker went 4-25 from three-point range in the out-of-conference schedule. In the last two games, he's gone 3-4. It's a small sample size, but he's shown - in a pair of blowouts - that he can be a calming factor on offense rather than a nervous shooter. He's been playing patiently and picking his shots lately, and that has made him an asset for the Commodores in the backcourt. If he keeps this up, he'll be good for 15-20 solid minutes per game in 2012 while giving Vandy fans some hope for next year's certain rebuilding effort.
3. Steve Tchiengang can dunk! And Vandy can get an easy basket in a last-shot scenario! With the shot clock turned off in the first half, Brad Tinsley fired a smooth pass to Tchiengang at the hoop, and the senior gracefully slammed it down to give Vanderbilt a 10-point lead at the half. It was a statement play from a player who's better known for his three-pointers and lay-ups than thunderous dunks, despite being one of the team's biggest players.
The finish may have been the confidence builder that the team needed. Before that moment, it had taken them 19:55 to score 20 points. They scored their next 20 in 5:16 of game time. So, by all means Steve - dunk away.