The best way to summarize Vanderbilt’s basketball season to this point is to borrow from an early episode of Seinfeld.
The Commodores (5-1) have shown they can take a lead. Holding the lead has proved a bit more problematic. And it’s the holding of the lead that is the most important part.
Twice, in six games, VU has been in front well into the second half only to be threatened down the stretch. Most recently, it happened in Wednesday’s 89-83 victory over Missouri, when the Tigers battled back from a 14-point deficit with 5:29 to play and closed to within one, 81-80, with 2:05 remaining.
“At some point, you have to make a play,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “You have to get a stop. You have to get a rebound. You have to make free throws.”
Vanderbilt has made those plays.
So even though Missouri produced an 11-0 run in just 70 seconds, the Commodores never relinquished the lead throughout the final 23:40 of the game.
Nearly two weeks earlier, they escaped with a 72-70 victory at St. Mary’s after having led by seven with just under four minutes to go. Similarly, VU went ahead late in the first half and maintained some advantage the rest of the way. That margin grew to as many as 12 points after halftime but thereafter twice was reduced to just one.
“For us to stay steady, stay composed and everybody keep our calm – it was important for us (Wednesday) night,” senior guard Jermaine Beal said. “I guess you could say everybody on our team is more mature. Last year, a game like that our team probably would have folded or lost. Who knows?”
Early last season, in fact, Vanderbilt led Illinois by five (57-52) with 9:27 to go in a critical non-conference contest. The Illini finished on a 17-6 run and won that one by six.
Up next for the Commodores is DePaul, 3 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Gymnasium.
DePaul is 4-1 and its only defeat was in the semifinals of last month’s Paradise Jam, where it lost 57-53 to Tennessee. DePaul trailed by nine at halftime, but rallied and went up by one (48-47) before the Volunteers answered.
“I think there comes a point in a game where if you’re behind you can almost relax … and just start playing and shooting with no fear because you have nothing to lose,” Stallings said. “… So the offense becomes more aggressive and less fearful or tentative.
“We might have experienced a little bit of that (Wednesday) night.”
• Festus Ezeli, who played in each of the first five games and averaged 11.2 minutes, did not see any action against Missouri.
Stallings said the sophomore post player is healthy and in good standing with the coaches but that Ezeli simply was not a good fit for the game plan against Missouri.
“The most enthusiastic guy in that locker room was (Ezeli),” Stallings said. “He’s such a great teammate. … It’s nice to have some bodies and some options. And it’s nice to have some guys who buy into the team concept and accept it.
“It was just my decision. He’s fine and you’ll see him on Saturday.”
Vanderbilt used 10 different players against Missouri. Nine of them played at least nine minutes.
• A.J. Ogilvy’s 25 points against Missouri made him the 31st player in the program’s history with at least 1,100 career points. The junior center raised his career total to 1,105 and moved past Bruce Elder (1,086 points, 1991-93) on the all-time scoring list.
It was the 20th time in his career (69 games) Ogilvy scored 20 or more.
• With victories in each of the first two home games, Stallings improved to more than 100 games over .500 at Memorial Gymnasium. His home record with the Commodores is now 138-37.