On February 9, the Commodores hosted #12 Tennessee coming off an upset loss to Georgia. The 'Dores had looked sloppy, listless, and uncomfortable when they dropped their second SEC game in Athens, and a loss against the Volunteers at home would stand to unravel a lot of the goodwill the team had built in the previous weeks. That night, the team came out firing on all cylinders and used a career night from Jeffery Taylor (26 points) and Jermaine Beal (20) to scorch the Vols in Nashville.
While the stars were the headliner, a transformation was taking place on the bench. Until the UT game, Steve Tchiengang had yet to play more than 13 minutes in an important game. Against the Volunteers, the Cameroonian big man looked composed, confident, and most of all - tough. Since that night, Tchiengang has gone from fringe big man with potential to valuable rotation player; more importantly, he earned his way into that role.
|First 8 SEC games
|Last 8 SEC games
In a jump of a just over twice the minutes, the Cameroonian's rebounding numbers have more than tripled. His presence on the glass was a major factor in the team's 6-2 finish and ascension to #13 in the country. A couple other interesting statistics pop out; in the first set of games, Tchiengang only went to the free throw line nine times - just four games out of eight. In the last half of the SEC schedule, he attempted 21 free throws and got to the line in every game, showcasing a more aggressive interior style of play. The big man has also gained a little confidence at the three-point line, putting up five threes in the second set compared to just one.
Tchiengang's emergence has had an impact statistically, but most of what he's contributed can't be measured in numbers. He's been a stalwart on the bench and his presence has cut into Festus Ezeli's court time, giving the team's other African big man more time to develop off the bench. He's proven to be the team's strongest player inside and is the muscle counterpart to Andre Walker's finesse game at the four. His development in 2010 has been one of the team's most promising - and under-reported - stories.
Steve Tchiengang has provided the muscle this team has needed inside in the games that have mattered most. Though he's not the tallest or most athletic power forward on the court, he's been the consummate college player this season, playing with hustle and frustrating opponents. Though other players will get most of the credit for Vanderbilt's wins in March - and often, rightfully so - Tchiengang is showing that he's the backbone this team needs to extend their season into April.