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

Legends Classic.

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

3-point range.

“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

boards.

“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.