Short on players, Vanderbilt shows poise a'plenty in hoops opener

It’s not as if Kevin Stallings has much of a bench to empty anyway.

So at a time when most Southeastern Conference teams and those in comparable conferences typically fortify their win-loss record, Vanderbilt might as well test the fortitude of the players it has with contests such as Tuesday’s season-opening 86-80 victory over Georgia State.

Typically this would be a game that is counted in the win column before it ever tips off and those deepest on the depth chart can count on seeing at least some action, even if it’s only in the final seconds. The combination of graduation and some unexpected offseason departures left Stallings with just nine scholarship players, though, and the eight who played all were on the floor for more than 15 minutes.

So while many might not like the final margin this was just what these Commodores needed. They might as well get used to playing tough minutes because there is no cavalry riding in to save the day. These guys are going to play big minutes and they’re the ones who will have to find ways to win.

“It’s definitely going to benefit us down the road,” senior Rod Odom said. “We lost a lot of close games last year. We didn’t have a lot of close games at the beginning of the season. I feel like these close games early [this] season are definitely going to give us experience and confidence for close games we’ll play in conference and down the road.”

Here’s how tough it was.

There were eight lead changes in each half, 16 in all. The score was tied 10 times, the last with 2:18 remaining. Neither side ever led by more than six.

Georgia state led twice in the final five minutes – by two and then by one – and in each case Odom responded with the last two of his game-high five 3-pointers.

“I liked our resolve,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “… I’m pleased with the victory. I’m pleased with our poise down the stretch. We handled the ball. We made some shots. Rod made some big shots for us. … We executed the way we talk about executing late in games and the way we practice it.

“… I’m not surprised. Aside from two or three things, I know what we have. There are a few things that still have to be proven for us to be as good as we can be. But I know what we have.”

Well sure he does. With the number of players he has the options are relatively limited.