TAMPA, Fla. — Even if, on paper, the job appears easy, it is still a job. And Vanderbilt finished the job efficiently and easily Wednesday inside AMALIE Arena at the SEC Tournament.
The Commodores never trailed as they disposed of Georgia, the league’s worst team, to advance into Thursday’s second round where they will face sixth-seeded Alabama at 7:30 p.m. CT.
While its offense was slow to get into gear, Vandy’s defense didn’t take a possession off in a thorough thrashing of the Bulldogs (6-27).
“The way we guarded them tonight I think it was just hard for them to get in a rhythm throughout the entire game,” Vanderbilt junior guard Jordan Wright said. “Our bigs were taking charges, we guarded (Kario) Oquendo on the perimeter – I think it was just hard for them to get into rhythm.
“They couldn’t really find the flow on offense and their shots weren’t falling. I credit that to our defense.”
Vanderbilt held Georgia without a field goal for the final 12:11 of the first half and to an 18-percent shooting clip from the field over the first 20 minutes. The Bulldogs scored just 14 points in the first half, a season-low for a Vandy opponent, and made just two 3-pointers the entire night.
It was all a recipe for a no-doubter of a Vanderbilt victory even if things didn’t kick into high gear until halfway through the first half.
“I thought we had great start to the game, especially from a defensive standpoint,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “We started off a little slow offensively, but our guys really turned our defense into offense. Really shared the ball.”
Vandy played one of its best and more complete games of the season. Thirteen different Commodores scored (including seldom-used backups Max Adelman and Graham Calton), there was a season-high 16 made 3-pointers and a total of 16 assists on 32 field goals.
Vanderbilt also saw a return to the court for Rodney Chatman and Jamaine Mann, both of whom had been out nearly a month due to injury, and got to rest its starters and regulars for much of the evening. No Commodore played more than 24 minutes Wednesday.
“Our goal is to win five games and to be able to come here and not have to expend a lot of minutes from our key guys is big,” Stackhouse said. “I think it’s a credit to what we’ve worked on all year – trying to build our depth.
“I thought our bench guys stepped up and they kept the defense going and they stepped up and made shots. I think that’s a credit to the ups and downs that they’ve had throughout the course of the regular season allow for them to step in and have confidence in this game tonight.”
Vanderbilt has a short turnaround going into Thursday, but plenty of time throughout the day to rest. The late tipoff will give Stackhouse’s squad even more time to scout and game plan for a Crimson Tide team that beat the Dores 74-72 in Memorial Gymnasium on Feb. 22.
Vandy believes it is a different team now than it was then. It will have 40 minutes to prove it in the second round of the SEC’s ultimate test.
“This is the first time we’re really being whole all season where everybody was healthy. This is the team that we envisioned and hopefully we can continue to have the defensive effort that we had tonight and hopefully we’ll find enough to win some games,” Stackhouse said. “I think our guys are in a good place mentally. They feel good about who they are as a team right now.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.