Like so many little children around the world in recent weeks, Kevin Stallings and his staff privately crafted a wish list.
Their hope was not for a filled stocking. Instead, they wanted to see their Vanderbilt basketball team fill up the hoop.
Monday, in their final game before Christmas, they got it in a 99-59 victory over Mercer before 12,347 at memorial Gymnasium.
“We were as a staff desperately hoping for a performance like this — privately — because it’s good for those guys to go in (to the break) feeling what they felt tonight, seeing what they saw from themselves and their teammates tonight,” Stallings said. “ … We were making shots.”
The Commodores (8-3) made a season-high 12 3-pointers and shot better than 60 percent overall. They had five players score in double figures for the first time in nearly two years and eight who made more than one field goal.
The point total was their highest since a 102-59 victory over Puerto Rico-Mayaguez on Dec. 19, 2006.
“We got killed,” Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said. “Their guys played great. Vanderbilt was on target and on time. They hit some 3s early, and we didn’t respond.”
Stallings maintained a staunch belief right from the start of the season that his was a team that could shoot well from the perimeter. Yet over the course of the first 10 games, Vanderbilt made just 32.8 percent of its 3-point attempts. Its single-game high (nine) required 26 attempts against Division II Chaminade back on Nov. 24.
This time, though, Jermaine Beal hit the first attempt 2:16 into the contest. It not only gave the Commodores a 5-2 lead (they led the rest of the way) it set the tone that others eventually followed.
John Jenkins made two, and Beal and Lance Goulbourne each made one in a 16-5 run that stretched the lead to 20 for the first time (32-12). At halftime, Vanderbilt had as many 3-point baskets (seven) as Mercer (4-6) had baskets – period.
“We have a good shooting team,” Beal said. “In practice, we make shots all the time. So I knew it was just a matter of time before we had a game — or games — where everybody just hit shots.”
Jenkins was 4-for-6 from the field (all 3-pointers) and finished with a game-high 17 points. Beal added three 3s and finished with 15 points in addition to six assists, and Brad Tinsley (2-for-2 on 3-pointers) added 14 points. Three others, including Goulbourne, made one of the long-range shots.
“It’s amazing how things go when you shoot the ball well,” Stallings said. “You make some shots and it kind of gets contagious. Guys start feeding off of it and a lot of balls start going in.
“…They’re a better team than that. It just kind of got snowballing.”
Just the way things should be at this time of year.
• Mercer guard James Florence was shut out in the first half and held to 10 points (on 3-for-11 shooting) for the game. That was well below his 23.1-point per game average,
Much of the defensive work was done by Beal.
“I was really pleased with how we played on the defensive end,” Stallings said. “Florence is a terrific player and I thought Beal was incredibly good on him.”
• With the victory, Stallings improved to 197-131 at Vanderbilt and tied Bob Polk for the second in coaching victories. Polk was 197-106 from 1948-58 and 1960-61.
Roy Skinner (278-135) is the winningest all-time Commodores’ coach.
• Jenkins missed the first free throws of his college career. He was 5-for-7 from the foul line after having gone a perfect 11-for-11 in his first 10 games.
• The Commodores were called for a season-high 25 fouls, and Mercer’s 33 free throw attempts were at least nine more than any other VU opponent this season.
“We had some really bad fouls,” Stallings said. “We talked about it at halftime, and then it didn’t do us a lot of good because we continued to make some really silly fouls.
“Other than fouling, I was pretty pleased.”