UPDATE: Andre Walker has mono. He's likely out until Christmas. The Missouri game just got a bit tougher.
Festus Ezeli had his greatest game as a Commodore, scoring 24 points and pulling down 10 rebounds against overmatched Belmont Saturday. Ezeli was a force on both sides of the court, scoring efficiently (7-9 from the field, 10-14 at the free throw line, one turnover) and defending well (four steals, three blocks). The redshirt junior's play helped offset the absence of Andre Walker (illness) and a poor showing from John Jenkins to lead Vanderbilt to the victory.
Today's game showcased Walker's value, as the Commodore offense struggled to create scoring opportunities without their point-forward on the floor. The team posted just 11 assists and 20 turnovers in an often disjointed effort that could have been disastrous against a stronger opponent. Vandy's guards were clearly stifled by not having a reliable outlet who can play inside and out. Despite Walker's disappointing stat lines this season, it's apparent that this team needs him on the court to put together their best basketball.
Freshman Rod Odom started in place of Walker, but appeared to be dealing with some nerves in his first collegiate start. While the lanky forward showed off his range with a pair of three-pointers, his suspect ballhandling led to five turnovers and three fouls in just 17 minutes of court time. Lance Goulbourne was effective off the bench in relief, scoring in bunches and working the glass to help the 'Dores pull away in the second half. He finished the game with 15 points and six rebounds.
Jeffery Taylor shook off the cobwebs from a pair of sub-par performances to put up a solid day as well. Taylor scored 16 points and tallied his third consecutive game with a three-pointer made. He's now connected from long range in six of the team's eight games this year. John Jenkins, conversely, missed both his three-point attempts and shot just 1-7 from the field in a disappointing showing.
The win improves the Commodores to 7-1 on the season, and coupled with Kentucky's loss against North Carolina, puts the team neck-and-neck with Tennessee for SEC superiority. Coincidentally, both teams have now posted 85-76 wins over Belmont this season. Vanderbilt will have a chance to prove their worthiness of a Top 25 spot on Wednesday when they travel to #8 Missouri. The Tigers are known for their intense defensive pressure, and they'll provide a real test for Brad Tinsley and Kyle Fuller's ballhandling in the backcourt.