After Sam Muldrow held Festus Ezeli to his worst performance of the season, the junior center promised fans and teammates that he'd be better next game. In his next game against Georgia he backed it up.
Ezeli outplayed Trey Thompkins and dominated the Bulldogs' frontcourt, leading the Commodores to a 73-66 win Wednesday night at Memorial Gym. Vanderbilt targeted the Nigerian in the post all night and "Big Fes" answered with an array of slick moves to get to the rim - often either scoring or drawing fouls along the way. Georgia's big men finished the night with 13 fouls - most thanks to Ezeli's beastly play inside. Ezeli finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and four steals on the night.
The #24 ranked Bulldogs started strong, but couldn't keep up with Vandy as the game wore on. Vanderbilt's lead fluctuated throughout the second frame, ranging from five to 10 as both teams struggled to string together enough points to either put the game away or pull even. Georgia was especially hamstrung by foul trouble, as the home team had the advantage of shooting bonus free throws just 3:30 into the second half. This frustration wore on the 'Dawgs and especially on Coach Mark Fox, who earned a technical foul with five minutes to play.
Georgia's trio of Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie, and Gerald Robinson performed well in Nashville, but they were no match for Vandy's big three. Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor, and John Jenkins combined for 51 points, 18 rebounds, and six steals in the victory. However, tonight's win was the result of a team performance.
Solid efforts abounded for Vanderbilt in the absence of one dominant performance. Ezeli, Taylor, and Jenkins led the offense, but Lance Goulbourne's rebounds and Brad Tinsley's ballhandling played key roles in driving the Commodores. Vandy had an answer for each of UGA's brief runs, responding with points from every position to keep the 'Dores firmly in the lead. Despite a weak showing from the bench, this was one of the team's most complete efforts of the season. While no one was playing at 100%, enough of the starting lineup was at 70% or high to show what this team is capable of.
The win was a key victory that puts Vanderbilt on the right track in the SEC. While the team's performance in the final minute (three turnovers, two missed free throws) is a cause for concern, it doesn't diminish the fact that the Commodores handled a quality conference opponent at home. This was a game that the team needed to win to be taken seriously - and they took care of business. If they can roll this momentum into Knoxville on Saturday they'll be looking at a Top 20 ranking and a big win over this team's most heated rivals.