It wasn’t as if Kyle Fuller was asked to play more minutes.
As the second-most used player in the Southeastern Conference, the Vanderbilt junior is used to staying on the floor. On Monday night, however, his minutes became more valuable when the league’s most used player, teammate Kedren Johnson, ran into foul trouble.
Fuller didn’t flinch. He shifted to the point guard and scored a game-high 17 points as the Commodores held off Cornell for a 66-55 victory at Memorial Gymnasium.
“I don’t really think I was carrying the load,” Fuller said. “I think I was just trying to do whatever I could to help the team win. I know that Rod [Odom] made some huge plays. The moment Kedren went out ... [Odom] kept motivating me, telling me, ‘Kyle, come on. You’ve got this. Just keep fighting.’ Basically that is what I did.”
Vanderbilt (5-4) led by 19 in the first half but ran into trouble when Fuller picked his fourth foul just 58 seconds into the second half.
Cornell (4-6) turned up the full-court pressure on the Commodores, who had 15 turnovers. Eitan Chermerinski scored eight points during a 14-2 run and his uncontested layup with 14:17 left cut the deficit to 40-38.
Fuller helped stymie the charge as Vanderbilt answered with a 12-2 run. He also contributed to a rare five-point possession that ended the spurt. As Odom sunk his third 3-pointer, Fuller was fouled while setting a screen. He made both free throws to push the lead to 52-40 with 9:59 left.
“I was hyped after that play. It made me feel good,” Fuller said. “I got Rod a shot and then we got free throws so our team started getting going. That was a big momentum boost for us.”
When Cornell pulled within seven with 2:52 left, Fuller came up with a big steal. The takeaway resulted in a three-point play by Johnson to seal Vanderbilt’s third straight win. It also locked up the 181st win at Memorial Gymnasium for Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. He is tied with Roy Skinner for most Vanderbilt home wins.
Johnson finished with 15 points in 18 minutes. The sophomore point guard entered averaging an SEC-high 36.6 minutes a game. Fuller played 35 minutes. He has been averaging 35.4 minutes.
Odom scored 13 points and Josh Henderson added 10. Dai-Jon Parker played a career-high 28 minutes in his first game of the season. The sophomore shooting guard was suspended for the first eight games due to a violation for non-academic team rules.
He accounted for the only two points from Vanderbilt bench players. Stallings had hope to play Parker, who was playing with a sore hip, just 15-20 minutes.
But when Johnson went out plans changed and Fuller’s presence became more noticeable.
“He was a good, steadying influence for us,” Stallings said. “You look and he has two turnovers in 35 minutes. They are trapping ball screens and they’re pressing and they’re trying to get the ball out of the point guard’s hands. Kyle was real solid. Real solid.”