Not only did Vanderbilt have the wherewithal to rally from 16 points down to Auburn on Saturday, it had enough bodies to complete the comeback.
“A lot of times when you come back, it drains your energy to come back,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “As deep as we are … that shouldn’t happen to us. As deep as we are, it should be a 50-50 game (then) and we should have every chance to win.”
The fact that the Commodores (15-3 overall) have won every Southeastern Conference game they have played thus far (four, to be exact) is due in part to the number of players who can — and do — contribute on a regular basis. That expansive roster figures to be advantage Wednesday when they play at Tennessee (6 p.m., ESPNU).
Ten different Vanderbilt players average nine minutes per game, and eight of those have started at least once. Four Commodores average better than 10 points per contest, and three average better than five rebounds.
Following the recent dismissal of two players, the Volunteers have two who average in double figures for scoring and one who averages better than five rebounds.
In UT’s loss to Georgia on Saturday, 50 of its 63 points came from the starting five. Vanderbilt, similarly, got most of its offense against Auburn from its starters (66 of 82 points) but still got significant contributions off the bench.
“They kind of wore us down a little bit, I think, more than anything,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said about Vandy's win Saturday.
Later, as he detailed the Commodores’ strengths, Lebo made three references to their depth — two directly and one indirectly — as part of his answer to a single question.
“They have depth,” he said. “They have inside presence in there with two big guys (who) can score inside. They have toughness at the point guard position in (Jermaine) Beal. They’re well coached. They have depth. They can shoot it on the perimeter. They have athletic guys who can drive the ball to the bucket. They have some nice role players also who come in off the bench.”
It took 11:35 for the Commodores to overcome completely the 16-point deficit to Auburn, which matched their largest of the season. It also took 10 different players.
Stallings made six substitutions over the final 3:14 of the first half (the point at which VU trailed 41-25) and four more through the first 8:21 of the second half before a 3-pointer by John Jenkins, a bench player, gave his team a 55-53 lead.
The Commodores then scored six of the next seven points and promptly pushed their advantage to five points. Auburn got no closer than three the rest of the way.
“We got good play off the bench,” Stallings said. “… Our bench continues to be key for us.”
You have to look deep into the history books to find the last time Vanderbilt was 4-0 in SEC play. It was 1965-66. Then Clyde Lee averaged 22.6 points (the second-highest single-season average in school history) and was named All-American.
The current Commodores have three who average slightly more than half what Lee did. Sophomore forward Jeffery Taylor leads the way at 14.3.
Only twice in the last 20 years has VU not had at least one player average more than 15 in a season. It’s likely, though, that they rarely ever have had so many options.
“We’re a really talented team and we’re beginning to put things together,” Taylor said. “We still have a lot to work on. … We’re one of (two) undefeated teams in the league right now, and that’s where you want to be.”