Most probably think that Jermaine Beal’s game has come a long way — at least in terms of offense. But the way Vanderbilt’s senior point guard sees it, it’s come full circle.
“In high school I could shoot,” Beal said. “I guess I just had to adjust to the speed of the game or whatever. I’m just glad everything is starting to fall into place for me.”
His ability to score has progressed slowly and steadily, from an average of 3.8 points per game as a freshman to 7.6 as a sophomore and 12.5 as a junior. In 21 games this season, he has averaged 14.4 points.
Similarly, his field goal percentage has risen every season – from 33.7 as a freshman to 45.5 currently. His 3-point percentage improved from his freshman-to-sophomore and sophomore-to-junior seasons. His current rate of 38.2 percent is down slightly from a year but has risen steadily since a six-game stretch in December when he made just nine of 35.
“He went through a little bit of a stretch where he lost his confidence, which really surprised us,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “He had played so well in the preseason and shot the ball so confidently and that kind of thing.
“That’s obviously come back in a big way.”
The height of that offensive rally came on Jan. 27 at Tennessee, when he made eight of 12 shots overall, four of six 3-pointers and scored a game-high 25 points. That helped propel the Commodores to an 85-76 victory over the Volunteers, their first victory at Knoxville in five years and their first this season against a ranked opponent.
When those teams meet again Tuesday at Memorial Gymnasium (6 p.m., ESPN), Beal will come in with a team-high streak of 10 straight games with 10 points or more. He also will enter as the 22-ranked Commodores leading scorer as they try to sweep the intra-state season series with the No. 12 Vols for the first time since 2004-05.
“We’re a balanced offensive team with a number of different guys who can get 15 or 20 or 20-plus on you,” Stallings said. “Jermaine is another one of those guys, but the fact that the ball is in his hands most of the time, it makes to where, for us, his productivity is very important – but it’s not just his point productivity. He needs to be productive for us in every way on offense, and most of the time he has been.”
In recent contests, Vanderbilt has been able to count on little else other than Beal.
He has been the team’s leading scorer in the last four games, a stretch which began with the first UT contest and included a three-point victory over Mississippi State and losses at Kentucky and Georgia, the Commodores’ first two defeats of the conference season.
During that stretch, regular point producers such as A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffery Taylor have been held below their season average. Saturday night at Georgia, both Ogilvy and Taylor were held to fewer than 10 points for just the second time this season. The other was in an easy victory over Chaminade, when reserves got a lot of playing time.
“I just try to do whatever I can do to help my teammates and to help my team win,” Beal said. “If the shot’s open for me, then I’m going to shoot it. At the same time, I’m going to try to get all my teammates involved in the game.
“I think of myself as a point guard who can do whatever needs to be done.”