There was one black eye and — most likely — two bruised egos.
Nonetheless, Vanderbilt shook off the sting of a loss in its most recent outing as well as a drop earlier in the day to “others receiving votes” in the AP Top 25 with a 70-61 victory over Alabama on Thursday. With the triumph the Commodores, who remained ranked (24th) in the coaches poll, reached the halfway point of the Southeastern Conference season at 4-4 (15-6 overall).
The bruised egos belonged to senior guard Merideth Marsh and freshman post player Tiffany Clarke. Both opened the game on the bench as a disciplinary measure for what coach Melanie Balcomb called a violation of team rules.
It was not until 6:39 remained in the first half that they were inserted. At the time, VU led by three but its advantage grew to 12 at intermission (37-25) as Marsh promptly poured in nine points.
“I thought those six minutes at the end of the first half it really helped to have Merideth on the floor, obviously,” Balcomb said. “(Clarke) came with energy, and I think they both came ready to play when they got their time.”
The pair also began the second half on the bench, but both got on the floor before four minutes had elapsed.
Clarke, a two-time conference freshman of the week, had started the last 10 games. She finished with five points and five rebounds in 13 minutes, which was the least she played in two months.
For Marsh, the move ended a string of 83 consecutive starts.
She was vital at the finish, though. Her four free throws in the final 31 seconds finally put the game out of reach after Alabama (9-12, 1-6) twice had cut a 16-point Vanderbilt lead to five.
For the game, she was 12-for-12 on foul shots and tied for the team lead with 14 points. It was the eighth time in VU history a player was perfect on at least 12 free throw attempts in a contest.
Individually, she accounted for half of her team’s free throws. Collectively, the Commodores hit on 24 of 29 as 28 foul (including one technical), which matched the most by a VU opponent this season, were called against the Tide.
“(Vanderbilt) made a lot of free throws when they needed to make them,” Alabama coach Wendell Hudson said. “… You have to adjust to officiating, and I thought we finally did a much better job in the second half.”
Alabama’s physical play left VU point guard Jence Rhoads with a welt under her left eye before the end of the first half. The battle scar was the result of contact with a shoulder.
Even so, she played the first 35-plus minutes, and then was reinserted with 2:30 to play when the Commodores’ lead started to dwindle. She scored the final four points of the game and finished with 14 of her own.
The Tide’s closing run was similar to the opening minutes of the contest when they jumped out to a 14-9 advantage and stayed in front through most of the first 13 minutes.
“With two different people starting, that will always have an impact,” Rhoads said. “… (The late run) was unacceptable.”
Perhaps the whole team will be disciplined for allowing it to happen.