"I was disappointed with the start of the second half," remarked Pearl. "I tried several line-up changes. We didn't guard well early. I thought that Melvin did a terrific job defensively. Melvin's toughness helped us to stay in the game."
Ezeli and John Jenkins scored 11 points apiece to lead the Commodores and Steve Tchiengang added 10 off the bench, but they went cold in the second half as the Volunteers made their charge. Vandy shot 30% from the field in the final 20 minutes, and they didn't help themselves by being outscored in the paint 20-10 and turning the ball over nine times either. Jenkins made just one of his six shot attempts in the second half, missing all four of his shots from beyond the arc. In recent years skill has rarely been questioned in regards to Kevin Stallings' team, but their toughness has. And while there have been strides made, the two losses to Tennessee (and how they've transpired) underlines how much further the Commodores have to go in that area.
"I thought we got out-toughed and out-physicalled," said Stallings. "I thought we had guys who were trying to be individual players and not team players." (quotes courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics)
As for Tennessee the outcome was huge despite the general belief that they're a safe bet for the field of 68 due to one of the toughest schedules in the nation featuring wins over Pittsburgh and Villanova. With their next two games against Mississippi State and at South Carolina before the regular season finale against Kentucky, Coach Pearl's team can go on a run heading into the SEC Tournament provided they show up ready to go from the start. Tuesday night featured a very good comeback in notching Pearl's 200th victory, but it also may be looked back upon as the moment when Tennessee began to take full advantage of its talents.
Other Notable Happenings
1. UConn receives their punishment from the NCAA Infractions Committee.
The University of Connecticut received its punishment from the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions on Tuesday afternoon, and the penalties had some wondering if the school had gotten off light. The biggest news was that the Huskies won't be hit with a postseason ban, although looking at the case it was difficult to even figure out how the NCAA could render such a judgment. Head coach Jim Calhoun will have to sit out the first three Big East games next season although he does plan to appeal the ruling, the program loses a scholarship for each of the next two seasons and the number of available off-campus recruiting days has been cut from 130 to 90.
Other penalties include the school having to disassociate itself from agent Josh Nochimson and then-director of basketball operations Beau Archibald being hit with a two-year show cause penalty. Then-assistant Patrick Sellers was not implicated in the report. How much of a distraction will this be for the current Huskies? Not much, if at all since they won't feel a direct impact in regards to the punishment. If anything, everyone connected with the program can get back to the task at hand knowing that this chapter has been completed.
2. In Big Ten bubble news Michigan State picks up an important road win while Illinois loses at Ohio State.
It's not so much how you win but whether or not you get the positive result, and that's exactly what Michigan State did in their 53-48 win at Minnesota. The Spartans were able to make the needed plays on the defensive end in the second half, thwarting the efforts of a Minnesota zone defense that limited the Spartans' quality looks for much of the night. Kalin Lucas scored 18 points to lead the way offensively on an otherwise frigid night from the field (his teammates made 11 of 33 shots) and defensively they limited the Golden Gophers to just 37.5% shooting and forced 15 turnovers in a much-needed victory. The Spartans moved to 8-7 in conference play, gaining sole possession of fourth place in addition to gaining some (temporary) separation from the logjam directly beneath them.
One of the teams in that amalgam of bubblers is Illinois, who got off to a hot start from deep while also failing to take care of the basketball. The end result was an 89-70 loss at Ohio State despite Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale combining to score 32 points. Demetri McCamey came off the bench once again as Bruce Weber continues to look for answers with this group, and the deeper into the bag of ideas he digs it seems that the Illini get closer to a return to the NIT. Illinois made 11 of 21 shots from three but attempted just three free throws to 15 for the Buckeyes, and their 16 turnovers were a far cry from Ohio State's three. Late in the season it's the seniors who need to know what time it is, and that was a glaring difference on Tuesday night given the contributions of David Lighty (a personal 13-0 run at one point) in all areas. Will Illinois' leaders step up to the level that Coach Weber needs them to? Their tournament fate will be determined as the answer.
"If you have a David Lighty, a heart and soul that comes everyday that does what you need, we don't have that toughness and leadership," said Weber. "We need to keep fighting and have another tough game against Iowa." (quote courtesy of Ohio State Athletics)
3. Indiana State wins at Northern Iowa to move into sole possession of third place in the Missouri Valley.
After losing five straight league games the Sycamores have won their last four in Missouri Valley play (Saturday's loss to Morehead State was not a league game) including a 76-74 win over Northern Iowa on Tuesday. The win locked up the three-seed in the upcoming Missouri Valley Conference Tournament for Greg Lansing's team, their best seed since the 1999-2000 season (regular season champions). Indiana State received 40 points from their bench against a UNI squad that's had its depth tested this season, with the most recent blow being the loss of Lucas O'Rear for the season due to injury. Jake Odum and Jordan Printy scored 17 points apiece and RJ Mahurin added 11 for the Sycamores, who close with Southern Illinois at home on Saturday afternoon. The turnover numbers (17 on Tuesday) have to improve however if the Sycamores are to be a credible threat to win the automatic bid as they own a 1-3 record against Missouri State and Wichita State. But they grabbed the best possible seed on Tuesday, which is something to be proud of.
Top Three Games
1. UNC Asheville 61, Coastal Carolina 58 Matt Dickey's three-pointer that came as a result of a poor inbounds pass by the Chanticleers won it for UNC Asheville, who handed Coastal Carolina their second conference loss. Jaron Lane led the Bulldogs with 16 points while Anthony Raffa scored 15 for the Chanticleers.
2. Indiana State 76, Northern Iowa 74
3. Houston Baptist 70, Middle Tennessee 68 Andrew Gonzalez led the Huskies to their fourth win on the season with 36 points to go along with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. James Washington III led Middle Tennessee with 21 points.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Tu Holloway (Xavier) 12 points, 15 assists and nine rebounds in Xavier's 100-62 demolition of La Salle.
2. G Chris Warren (Mississippi) 33 points in the Rebels' 79-73 loss at South Carolina.
3. F Matthew Bryan-Amaning (Washington) 24 points and 13 rebounds in the Huskies' 95-74 win over Seattle.