Cleveland St.-Vanderbilt Preview
At least for one game, Vanderbilt showed it can still perform at
a high level without starting center Festus Ezeli.
Cleveland State faces an entire season without reigning Horizon
League player of the year Norris Cole.
The seventh-ranked Commodores look to spoil the Vikings’ season
opener Sunday at Memorial Gym in their first regional game of the
Ezeli is sidelined up to two months with sprained right knee
ligaments after already facing a six-game NCAA suspension for
accepting a meal and a hotel room from an alumnus. He was expected
to be an integral part of the team after averaging 13.0 points and
6.3 rebounds last season, but Vanderbilt overcame his absence
Friday to post a 78-64 season-opening victory over Oregon.
The Commodores didn’t get major production from the players
being relied upon to make up for Ezeli’s absence. His replacement
in the starting lineup, senior Steve Tchiengang, finished with four
points and three rebounds in his second start since 2008-09.
Redshirt freshman Josh Henderson had four points and four boards,
but the team held a 41-39 rebounding edge and scored 24 points off
20 Ducks turnovers.
“We can’t sit around and lament what it means not to have
Festus,” said coach Kevin Stallings, who had all five starters
return for the first time in 12 seasons. “We have to play better,
and we have to play without him and make up for that. And we did.
We played hard.”
Jeffrey Taylor had 21 points, 11 rebounds and a career-best five
steals, while fellow junior John Jenkins scored 16 of his game-high
24 in the second half.
Jenkins – the SEC leader last season with 19.5 points per game –
missed his first four field-goal attempts but finished 7 of 16 from
“As soon as we started moving the ball and moving around we got
used to it and shots started falling,” he said.
Jenkins is 12 points shy of 1,000.
So is Vikings senior guard Jeremy Montgomery.
Cleveland State is counting on big years from him and preseason
all-conference pick Trey Harmon, who combined to average 24.8
points last season, with Cole having graduated. Cole was a
first-round NBA draft pick after leading the Vikings with 21.7
points and 5.3 assists per game as the team finished 27-9 and
reached the NIT.
If coach Gary Waters’ team is going to make a run at a second
consecutive regular-season Horizon League title, frontcourt
experience could be a major factor.
Senior center Aaron Pogue (8.2 points, 6.1 boards) returns as
does junior forward Tim Kamczyc (5.9 points, 3.7 rebounds). Senior
forward D’Aundray Brown is back after missing all of last season
with a finger injury, and he had 10 points in Wednesday’s 88-58
exhibition victory over John Carroll.
Pogue added 18 points and 14 rebounds, while freshman Anton
Grady, the nephew of NBA guard Earl Boykins, scored 10 with 11
“Today was a day where we got a chance to see our younger guys
play and our veterans take another step forward,” Waters told the
school’s official website. “… now we’ll go back to the drawing
board and prepare for Vanderbilt.”
The Vikings have dropped five straight to ranked opponents since
an 84-69 victory over then-No. 12 Wake Forest in the first round of
the 2009 NCAA tournament.
In the teams’ only previous meeting, Vanderbilt won 93-64 on
Dec. 28, 1994.
The Commodores host Bucknell on Tuesday in the next round of the
Legends Classic before heading to East Rutherford, N.J., next
Saturday for a semifinal matchup versus North Carolina State.