Kevin Stallings dismissed any notion that his team had any kind of a letdown Saturday. Vanderbilt’s coach conceded, though, that his players probably tightened up as – for the better part of 40 minutes – they faced the possibility of an upset by LSU, the team with the worst record in the Southeastern Conference.
“We had some guys that were a little more uptight than they should be and normally are,” Stallings said. “It’s an interesting sort of reverse pressure. It’s not the kind of pressure you normally expect. … Nobody’s going to be surprised if they jump up and beat somebody. You just don’t want to be that team.
“So that creates a different kind of stress.”
The 22nd-ranked Commodores (19-5, 8-2 in the SEC) countered whatever struggles they faced with a constant assault on the inside of LSU’s zone defense. Consequently, they forced three Tigers to foul out, attempted well over twice as many free throws as their upstart opponent and eventually escaped with a 77-69 victory before a sellout crowd of 14,316 at Memorial Gymnasium.
Vanderbilt attempted 43 free throws – and made 31 – and 22 of its 49 second-half points came from the foul line. Each of the first nine fouls – all seven in the first half and the first two in the second – and 24 of 27 overall against LSU resulted in free throws.
“We got to the foul line, and as it has been a number of times for us this year, it was the saving grace (Saturday) because we didn’t make shots (and) we weren’t as crisp as we wanted to be,” Stallings said.
The free throw total matched the Commodores’ season-high, which was set five days ago against Tennessee. It also was the eighth time this season they attempted at least 30 in a contest and it raised their season total to 633, which is 148 more than their opponents have attempted.
Three different players, including Lance Goulbourne who scored a career-high 18 points, made at least seven.
“With our big guys and our slashers on the wings, we can get to the basket and get fouled,” Goulbourne said. “That’s a good way for us to get a lot of points because we have a lot of good finishers and good attackers. If we can get a lot of points in the paint like that, it’s going to be really hard to beat us.”
Vanderbilt actually was short a couple weapons.
Freshman guard John Jenkins missed his second straight game because of an illness, and starting forward Andre Walker sat out with a shoulder injury sustained a day earlier at practice. Stallings said both players would have made a difference against the defensive approach of LSU (9-16, 0-11), which has lost 14 straight conference contests.
“Considering the fact that Vanderbilt didn’t have two of its better players playing, that was a good basketball team,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said. “… They’re very skilled, they’re very strong, they play fast, they can play slow, they can shoot it. They really cause a lot of problems for you.”
Despite all of that, fouls were the primary problem for the Tigers.
Vanderbilt made just 29.6 percent of its first-half shots, which was the first time this season it did not make at least 30 percent in the first 20 minutes. It was unable to press the pace of play and did not make enough 3-point shots (6-fopr-17) to force the Tigers out of their zone. It also got outrebounded 31-29 overall.
Yet the Commodores won but only after four lead changes and eight ties, the last of which was broken by A.J. Ogilvy’s jump shot with 3:49 to play. Beginning with that shot, Vanderbilt outscored LSU 18-10 to the finish.
“LSU gave us their best game, but I think we made some winning plays down the stretch,” senior guard Jermaine Beal said. “I guess they got tired and ran out of gas.”
Only when Goulbourne made five free throws in the final 22 seconds did the Commodores finally relax.
• Walker was injured right near the finish of Friday’s workout in a collision with teammate Steve Tchiengang.
“He finished practice and then … at game time he couldn’t lift his arm up to parallel,” Stallings said. “He has quite a bit of soreness.”
Stallings added that initial reports are that the injury will require only a couple days of rest.
Tchiengang started in place of Walker and finished with six points and four rebounds in 21 minutes.
This was not the first time he inadvertently harmed a teammate. Ogilvy missed a significant portion of preseason workouts when he sustained a concussion after a run-in with Tchiengang on the first official day of workouts.
• LSU’ leading scorer, Tasmin Mitchell, was not one of the Tigers who fouled out. He did get two quick fouls, though, and played just eight minutes in the first half.
Ultimately, he finished with a game-high 20 points, all but two of which he scored after halftime.
“It’s just a matter of time before he makes a basket or two before he gets in rhythm,” Johnson said. “There wasn’t much question he was going to be the guy we go to in crucial situations, possession by possession by possession in the second half.”