Last March, Vanderbilt witnessed a 3-point shooting spectacle — and John Jenkins’ name wasn’t written all over it.
Jenkins, then a sophomore, still feasted on the 3 ball, knocking down four. But the Commodores were merely spectators as Richmond lit it up from outside, draining 12 of 24 3-pointers in upsetting Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Hopefully that doesn’t happen [again],” forward Lance Goulbourne said. “But that has a lot to do with our defensive intensity, which I think has picked up. Last year we had a little slippage. But it is a new year. So we’re looking forward to it.”
Goulbourne and the fifth-seeded Commodores enter Thursday’s opening round matchup against No. 12 seed Harvard in Albuquerque, N.M., (3:40 p.m., TNT) with a newfound sense of confidence in their perimeter defense.
Vanderbilt (24-10) ranks second in the SEC in 3-point shooting defense (30.7 percent). That is slightly better than last year, when the Commodores allowed opponents to make 31.3 percent.
But they were exposed against Richmond and undersized guard Kevin Anderson. The 6-footer made four 3-pointers, including three on consecutive possessions.
The Commodores hope to keep better tabs on Harvard’s perimeter threats. Though the Crimson (26-4) are more defensive-minded — they rank fourth in the country in scoring defense (54.0 ppg) — they have a couple players who aren’t afraid to chuck it up from the outside.
Laurent Rivard, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard, shoots 39 percent from behind the arc and made a career-high six against Boston University in December. Freshman Corbin Miller leads the team by shooting at a 45.6 percent clip.
“We’ve had good balance with our ballclub. A number of different guys can step up and be a leading scorer for us or have a tremendous impact on the offensive end,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We’ve been a team that is trying to play a high-octane type of offense, getting up and down, transition oriented. But a lot of that is based on our defense. We haven’t scored a lot this year as we would have liked to. Our numbers haven’t allowed us to be as efficient offensively. But our defense has been outstanding. We would like to have our defense translate into our offense.”
Jenkins, primarily known as an offensive weapon, has picked up his intensity on the defensive end.
Opposing point guards, in addition 3-point shooting, have exploited the Commodores in recent years. But the defense of Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor, who Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings considers the team’s best defender, held Georgia’s Gerald Robinson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to just five points last Friday in the SEC Tournament opener. On Saturday, Terrance Henry scored only eight points.
The next day, Kentucky’s sharpshooters Doron Lamb and Darius Miller combined for 3-of-16 shooting from 3-point range. Perhaps more importantly freshman point guard Marquis Teague didn’t score with Jenkins guarding him.
“I think it is just knowing that the team needs me to defend well,” Jenkins said. “I feel like I have always had that but I just haven't had the want to like I should. Now I have the want to and I played great defense the whole [SEC] tournament. I am trying to keep it up now.”
Vanderbilt should be encouraged with not only Jenkins' play but the team’s seal-tight perimeter defense as of late.
In the SEC Tournament, Georgia, Ole Miss and Kentucky combined to shoot just 20.7 percent (11-of-53) from 3-point range. In the championship game, the Wildcats, who rank third in the SEC in 3-point shooting, hit just six of 28 attempts. Kentucky missed its last eight 3-pointers.
“It is very encouraging,” guard Brad Tinsley said. “Not just the play on the guards but our perimeter play and definitely our play inside defensively the last three games was really amazing, it was unbelievable the way we could hold teams to a certain amount of points, a certain amount of field-goal percentage. It is definitely a motivational tool and confidence booster going forward.”