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November 24, 2008
Vandy 65, MT 57: Inside the box
"I'm just so disappointed we lost, but I was really proud of our team in the second half. I just thought we came back well, but we could never go more than a couple of trips without fouling."
MT shot just 22 percent from the floor in the first half as Vanderbilt worked its way methodically to a 31-17 halftime advantage.
The Blue Raiders staged a rally in the second half but could never close the gap to less than six points.
Even after a steep uphill first half climb left the Blue Raiders with a 14 point halftime deficit, Middle Tennessee had the game within reach with more than 12 minutes remaining. The Raiders outscored the Commodores 18-10 to start the second half and had the score down to 41-35 after a free throw by Montarrio Haddock. But MT was whistled for two quick fouls, one of which was an illegal screen on Desmond Yates that upset head coach Kermit Davis. Davis was assessed a technical foul for disputing the call. Vanderbilt pushed the lead back to 10 at the foul line and then to 12 on a layup by Jeffery Taylor. MT never got the lead lower than eight after that.
SG Demetrius Green: Green led the Blue Raider offense for the second straight game against an SEC foe. The senior guard netted 15 points and was also the top Blue Raider rebounder on the night. He had two big offensive rebounds in the second half that led directly to four points.
G Nigel Johnson: As always, Johnson played his heart out and finished the game with 12 points, five rebounds, four assists, and just a single turnover. The clear concern after the game centered around his health. Johnson will undergo an MRI Tuesday on his knee, according to Davis, who called Johnson the "best point guard in our league."
G Calvin O'Neil-In 25 minutes off the bench, O'Neil contributed eight points along with a rebound, steal, and block. He mainly deserves mention for hitting all six of his free throw attempts. His solid performance at the line helped MT bounce back from a terrible free throw shooting display against Tennessee to post a 71 percent mark against the Commodores.
Honorable Mention: Montarrio Haddock-Haddock had some ugly moments, particularly early in the game. He finished with three turnovers and fouled out in only nine minutes, but he merits a mention for his three offensive rebounds. Davis will tolerate a lot of other inconsistencies if a player proves he can offensive rebound the ball.
Season Star Count
Green (6) Yates (4) Kanaskie (4) O'Neil (4) Johnson (4) Avery (1)
Vanderbilt exploited Middle Tennessee's undersized team that did not include senior center Theryn Hudson. Without Hudson, the Commodores easily won the rebounding battle and intimidated the Blue Raiders around the goal in the first half. Vanderbilt's length was a factor on the perimeter as well. Middle Tennessee's offensive patterns that typically result in open looks were well covered by Vanderbilt's rangy perimeter players. The Commodores switched most of MT's ball screens and dribble handoffs because they had enough similar players to be able to match up well on the outside. The interior size is what really made the difference though. A.J. Ogilvy and Jeff Taylor each had double-doubles for VU.
WHISTLES A PLENTY
Blink once during Monday's game and you put yourself in danger of missing a foul call. The two teams were whistled for a combined 54 fouls which zapped a lot of the rhythm out of the game and had the Memorial Gym patrons voicing their displeasure. The slowed tempo and plentiful foul calls certainly hurt Middle Tennessee, which wanted the game played more in the open court and in transition. The Blue Raiders were never able to open the game up consistently in the fashion they wanted because so many fouls were called on the defensive end to slow the pace. A total of 12 players finished the game with at least three fouls.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Go ahead and try to imagine the Blue Raiders without Nigel Johnson. It's certainly a scary thought for Davis, who watched Johnson pump in 12 points and dish out four assists while also getting hurt twice. Johnson took a hard fall that hurt his back in the second half, but he came back in the game only to injure his knee, which seems to be the chief concern among the Blue Raider staff. If Johnson misses significant time, MT will be without its offensive engine. Johnson is the best Sun Belt guard with the ball in transition and is capable of filling up a stat line with points, rebounds, assists, and steals. MT will be keeping its fingers crossed when Johnson's MRI results come back.
Dec. 2: Houston at Middle Tennessee, 7:00 p.m.