Performance at Maui Invitational helps Vanderbilt climb in polls

Finishing as runner-up at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational was enough for Vanderbilt to move up in the minds of those who vote in college basketball polls.

The Commodores (5-1), who lost the tournament championship game 70-63 to Kansas, moved up three spots in the latest Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls, which were released Monday.

They are 13th in the coaches poll and 16th in the AP rankings. In both cases, that is their highest ranking of the season.

Kansas is in the top 10 in both.

“There is a reason why (the Maui Invitational) is the premier early-season event in college basketball,” coach Kevin Stallings said, following the Kansas game. “We were thrilled to be a part of it.

“I think we accounted well for ourselves. Our basketball team played very, very well.”

Vanderbilt never trailed in victories over St. John’s (92-55) and Wake Forest (86-64) and led Kansas for the entire first half.

The first game aired live on ESPN2 and the next two were on ESPN, the last one in prime time. That exposure, obviously, served the Commodores well with those voters who got to watch some or all of the games.

“We didn't have a great sixth half, but other than that, we played five pretty good halves of basketball,” Stallings said. “I've got a lot to look forward to with my team. I really enjoyed coaching them (last) week, and I enjoyed watching them play and watching them compete.

“And I was particularly happy when I got in the locker room and saw how disappointed they were, because this was a game that we thought we could and would win, and we got beat by a team that was better than us.”

Vanderbilt is back in action Wednesday when it hosts Detroit at Memorial Gymnasium (7 p.m., SEC Network Plus). It plays at Baylor on Sunday and is back home to face Dayton on Dec. 9 before a 10-day break for final exams.

Nov 30, 2015 9:54 PM

Vanderbilt thrives amid Kansas connections at Maui Invitational

Tuesday’s game was about Kansas connections.

Now Kevin Stallings comes face-to-face with the source.

Stallings, a one-time assistant coach at Kansas, led his Vanderbilt team to an 86-64 romp over Wake Forest, coached by former Jayhawks great Danny Manning, on Tuesday in the semifinals of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.

That put the 19th-ranked Commodores in the championship game against No. 5 Kansas on Wednesday (9 p.m., ESPN).

“Somebody mentioned it the other night at the banquet and you had [Kansas coach] Bill [Self] and you had (Manning), and you had me. Three guys that had been a part of KU's basketball program. Now let's see which guy kind of came in third in terms of their impact on the program. You've got Bill who has won National Championships. Danny won a National Championship (and was) one of the greatest players to ever play there.

“And I was just a lowly assistant coach. But I was there for five great years with Roy Williams and very proud of my time there. Wonderful place. It's just a wonderful place.”

Maui has been pretty good to the Commodores as well. Against Wake Forest – for the second time in as many days – they jumped out to a big lead at the start and cruised all the way to the finish. In this case they scored the first seven points and led 21-5 after 8:14. Wake Forest got no closer than 13 points in the second half.

Damian Jones led Vanderbilt with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Wade Baldwin added 17 points and two steals.

The Commodores are playing at Maui for the fifth time. They won it in their first appearance back in 1986 and now are one victory away from their second title.

“That's what we expected coming in,” sophomore forward Jeff Roberson said. “We worked hard to get to this point. We didn't expect anything less. We just feel like we're a good group, we work hard and we want it all to pay off.”

Nov 25, 2015 7:38 AM

Vanderbilt spreads out minutes to start condensed tournament

It was anything but a half-hearted effort, which meant that none of Vanderbilt’s players had to be on the floor for much more than half the game.

The Commodores scored 30 of the first 35 points and opened the Maui Jim Maui Invitational with a 92-55 rout of St. John’s on Monday.

That big early lead allowed coach Kevin Stallings to substitute early and often, which should pay dividends in the next couple days. The eight teams in the event will play three games in as many days.

Next up for No. 17 Vanderbilt (4-0) is Wake Forest, which upset No, 13 Indiana in the opening round (6:30 p.m., ESPN).

“When we got the lead, certainly that was something that was in the back of my mind,” Stallings said. “Damian [Jones] only played five minutes in the first half. I wanted to give him time in the second half. He picked up a couple more fouls, and I took him out. I didn't have to, but I took him out. But we wanted to limit minutes.

“Luke [Kornet] had 17 in the first half. I think Riley had 15, and I wanted to shorten those up guys up in the second half given the lead that we had.”

Wade Baldwin played a team-high 25 minutes for the Commodores. Kornet (23) and LaChance (21) were the only ones who played more than 20. Jones logged just 14 minutes.

Off the bench, Jeff Roberson played 19 minutes, Camron Justice played 18 and Nolan Cressler and Josh Henderson each played 17. In all, 12 Vanderbilt players were on the floor for seven minutes or more.

Kornet scored a team-high 13 points. Roberson and Justice added 11 each. Roberson also had a career-high 13 rebounds.

“Again, three games in three days is a challenge, especially against this quality of competition,” Stallings said. “I did not anticipate that the final margin would be the way it was. I was just pleased with the way that we approached the game and the way we played. We're always pretty good about sharing the ball.”

In this case, they were good about sharing playing time as well.

Nov 24, 2015 6:50 AM

Jones hears it from teammate, then shows what he can do

Everyone needs a little reminder now and then.

Even college basketball players who are destined to be in the NBA someday.

For Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones, such a moment came Thursday. Sophomore point guard Wade Baldwin figured the junior post player, who already has announced his intention to declare for the NBA draft after the season, needed a refresher on just how good a player he is.

“(He) said, ‘Damian, you’re the best player on the floor, you need to start acting like it,’” coach Kevin Stallings said. “That wasn’t a coach. It was a player.”

Not long after, Jones’ layup with 6:52 to play in the second half started a 15-9 run that got Vanderbilt into overtime against Stony Brook. His layup with 1:01 remaining put his team on top 66-64 and forced the visitors to make a jumper with one second remaining just to get into overtime.

Jones, who finished with 13 points and six rebounds, then scored the first four points of the extra period and the 17th-ranked Commodores (3-0) pulled out a 79-72 victory at Memorial Gymnasium.

“I think it was effective because Damian is our most dominant player on this team,” Baldwin said. “These first couple games he’s been dealing with foul trouble. So getting him going and getting him a little bit more aggressive, I think, is the best version of Damian and the best thing we need for this team.

“He came out, made crucial buckets for us and played a lot stronger. And he was a very big key in why we won.”

Whatever his struggles, Jones is the Commodores’ second-leading scorer (to Baldwin) through three games with an average of 11.7 per contest. He is second in rebounds and blocked shots and is one of five Vanderbilt players with multiple steals.

Those numbers don’t yet measure up to the standard he set in his first two seasons. Already, though, he has shown — when prompted — that he won’t shrink from a big moment.

“Damian, of course, asserted himself down the stretch, which we really needed,” Stallings said. “And we got a win.”

(Photo: Joe Howell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Nov 20, 2015 6:44 AM

Vanderbilt's depth at power forward a difference-maker

Jeff Roberson is not a substitute for Luke Kornet. He’s not a replacement either.

The sophomore forward out of Houston is a complete philosophical change for Vanderbilt and coach Kevin Stallings.

“One's long and one's faster and quicker,” Stallings said Monday. “It changes a lot of what we do, but that's also a good thing because first we show you one thing, then we show you something different. They're both very different players, but we can also play them together.”

That might happen eventually. Through the first two games of the season, though, it pretty much has been one or the other at power forward for the 17th-ranked Commodores.

Kornet, a 7-foot sophomore, left Monday’s 98-62 victory over Gardner-Webb late in the first half with an ankle injury. Roberson scored 13 points and had seven rebounds in 13 minutes during the second half and finished with a career-high 18 points and eight rebounds.

Roberson (pictured), who is 6-foot-6, missed the season opener against Austin Peay (Vanderbilt won 80-41), when Kornet had 13 points and 13 rebounds in 26 minutes.

“I obviously wish that Luke didn't get hurt, but I mean we have a lot of depth on this team and throughout the season anybody should be ready because you don't know when your time is coming,” Roberson said. “… I certainly didn't want to come in this game and mess things up, the way they played (the first) game was amazing and I just wanted to help build on that."

Because of the ankle injury, Kornet is doubtful for Thursday’s game against Stony Brook (7 p.m., Memorial Gymnasium), which means Roberson will have an even bigger role than he did Monday night – and Vanderbilt’s starting lineup likely will perform differently than it did in the first two games.

"I think physicality is something I can bring, because Luke and I kind of contrast,” Roberson said. “He's very long, has a lot of length, more finesse. I can come in and bring a different side to it.”

(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Nov 19, 2015 11:34 AM

Vanderbilt makes quick work of first two opponents

Twice in as many games to start this season, Vanderbilt has dropped the hammer almost as soon as the curtain has gone up.

Monday the Commodores used a 19-0 run that began 3:07 after the opening tip to pull away from Gardner-Webb in a 98-62 victory at Memorial Gymnasium. It was similar to the 21-point run they opened with in Friday’s victory over Austin Peay.

In both cases Vanderbilt (2-0) remained comfortably in front the rest of the way.

“We’re not going to complain about having big leads,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “We like big leads and you get those because you get consecutive stops. And that’s what we talk about all the time. If you can get consecutive stops then you can get separation and we’ve been able to do that at the beginning of our first two games.”

Against Gardner-Webb, five different players combined to make three 3-pointers, three other field goals and four free throws (on four attempts) to turn an early 5-2 deficit into a 21-5 advantage. During that stretch, which lasted 6:35, the Runnin’ Bulldogs missed five shots and committed six turnovers.

After that the lead was never less than 11.

The 21-0 start over the first 7:14 against Austin Peay included six traditional field goals and three 3-pointers from six different players. The Governors got no closer than 19 the rest of the way in the season-opener for both teams.

"I think it's important that we start well, especially on the defensive end of the floor,” sophomore guard Riley LaChance said. “Obviously we just have to maintain that, and try to put together a whole 40 minute game.”

A look at the scoring breakdowns of Vanderbilt’s big early runs in its first two games:


vs. Austin Peay

vs. Gardner-Webb

Matthew Fisher-Davis 6

Luke Kornet 6

Wade Baldwin 5

Wade Baldwin 4

Damian Jones 4

Riley LaChance 3

Luke Kornet 2

Matthew Fisher-Davis 3

Riley LaChance 2

Camron Justice 3

Josh Henderson 2



“We finished the (Gardner-Webb) game much better than we did on Friday night [against Austin Peay],” Stallings said. “We did a nice job for the first 32 minutes of that game on Friday night and then kind of dilly-dallied for eight minutes.

“(Monday) night I thought our last several minutes were a lot more productive and a lot more efficient.”

(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Nov 17, 2015 6:38 AM

Among SEC's best, Vanderbilt's Jones is one of a kind

Damian Jones is a tall order in the minds of Southeastern Conference basketball coaches.

Vanderbilt’s leader in points and rebounds in 2014-15 already has said he plans to declare for the NBA draft following this season. Until then, though, he presents a matchup problem in a league where the majority of best players – at last as the coaches see it – are in the backcourt.

The 7-foot junior is the only player listed as a true center on the coaches’ preseason All-SEC first and second teams, released Thursday and which consist of 17 players. The other 16 are 12 guards and four forwards.

Vanderbilt’s Riley La Chance, a sophomore guard, made the second team.

The complete coaches’ preseason All-SEC teams:

First Team
Dorian Finney-Smith – Florida, F, 6-8, 220, Sr., Portsmouth, Va.
Kenny Gaines – Georgia, G, 6-3, 205, Sr., Atlanta, Ga.
Charles Mann – Georgia, G, 6-5, 215, Sr., Alpharetta, Ga.
Skal Labissiere – Kentucky, F, 6-11, 225, Fr., Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Tyler Ulis – Kentucky, G, 5-9, 160, So., Lima, Ohio
Ben Simmons – LSU, F, 6-10, 225, Fr., Melbourne, Australia,
Stefan Moody – Ole Miss, G, 5-10, 179, Sr., Kissimmee, Fla.
Danuel House – Texas A&M, G, 6-7, 212, Sr., Fresno, Texas,
Damian Jones – Vanderbilt, C, 7-0, 245, Jr., Baton Rouge, La.

Second Team
Jamal Murray – Kentucky, G, 6-4, 207, Fr., Kitchener, Ontario
Alex Poythress – Kentucky, F, 6-8, 230, Sr., Clarksville, Tenn.
Tim Quarterman – LSU, G, 6-6, 190, Jr., Savannah, Ga.
Malik Newman – Mississippi State, G, 6-3, 178, Fr., Jackson, Miss.
Craig Sword – Mississippi State, G, 6-3, 196, Sr., Montgomery, Ala.
Sindarius Thornwell – South Carolina, G, 6-5, 215, Jr., Lancaster, S.C.
Alex Caruso – Texas A&M, G, 6-5, 186, Sr., College Station, Texas
Riley LaChance – Vanderbilt, G, 6-2, 182, So., Brookfield, Wis.

(Note: Each team consists of a minimum of eight players and ties are not broken)

The first team includes two others taller than 6-foot-8, Kentucky forward Skal Labissiere (6-foot-11) and LSU forward Ben Simmons (6-foot-10). The entire second team is comprised of players 6-foot-8 or shorter.

Jones already has been tough to stop in his first two seasons. He enters 2015-16 needing 145 points to reach 1,000 for his career. He already has more than 400 points and 100 blocked shots.

He was a first-team All-SEC performer last season when he averaged 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.

LaChance started all 35 games in 2014-15 and led all SEC freshmen with 429 points, an average of 12.3 per game.

The Commodores open the season Friday against Austin Peay at Memorial Gymnasium. After that come two more home games against Gardner-Webb (Monday) and Stony Brook (Nov. 19) before they head to Hawaii for the main bracket of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.

Nov 12, 2015 11:44 AM

Vanderbilt ranked in Associated Press preseason hoops poll

The buzz about the Vanderbilt basketball program only has increased in the two-plus weeks since the preseason coaches poll was released.

The Associated Press released its preseason rankings Monday, and Kevin Stallings’ team was ranked 18th, two spots higher than what the coaches had it.

The Commodores came in just behind Wisconsin, a Final Four team each of the previous two seasons, and just ahead of Notre Dame and 2014 national champion Connecticut.

Vanderbilt returns six of its top seven scorers, including preseason All-SEC selection Damian Jones, from a team that won 10 of its final 14 games last season. That bunch won advanced to the third round of the National Invitation Tournament and finished 21-14.

The Commodores open the season Nov. 13 against Austin Peay.

Nov 2, 2015 3:07 PM

Barnes wants UT hoops on 'national stage,' including Nashville

Rick Barnes believes it is important that the University of Tennessee basketball program is willing to play any team, anywhere.

The good news for local supporters of the Volunteers specifically or college basketball fans in general is that one of the places the third UT coach in as many seasons wants to play is Nashville.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Barnes told a crowd at a luncheon earlier this week that the school is finalizing a contract with North Carolina and that talks have begun regarding games with Arizona and Virginia. Any – or all – of those deals could result in games at Bridgestone Arena, according to the report.

“You’ve got to be willing to go anywhere and play anybody in the country,” Barnes said. “I think we have to do that. I think we have to do it for our fans, I think we have to do it for the perception of our basketball program.

“If we want to be the best, we have to be willing to play the best.”

UT’s first non-conference game in Nashville under Barnes will be next season against Gonzaga. To get that one, Barnes agreed to face the Zags in this season’s Battle in Seattle, an annual non-conference contest against a high-profile opponent for Gonzaga that began in 2003-04.

“We want to play in Nashville,” Barnes said, “and so (head coach) Mark Few, a good friend of mine at Gonzaga, he was a guy that we were able to work out a deal with, where we have to go out there this year and play in Seattle in the Battle in Seattle. Then we come back here and play in Nashville.”

Barnes also targeted Atlanta as an important destination and agreed to a four-year contract with Georgia Tech, which begins with the Volunteers’ first road game this season (Nov. 16 at Georgia Tech).

“… To change the perception of the program, you have to play on a national stage,” Barnes said. “You have to do that.”

Oct 28, 2015 4:26 PM

Media see Vanderbilt as SEC's No. 2 in men's basketball

Vanderbilt might not have the best players in the Southeastern Conference.

It does, however, have one of the better men’s basketball teams.

That’s the collective opinion of media members who picked the Commodores to finish second to Kentucky in the conference’s preseason poll.

Junior post player Damian Jones, who plans to turn pro following the season, made the preseason first team but was the only Vanderbilt player to earn All-SEC recognition from the voters. The other teams among the top four in the preseason ranking (Kentucky, Texas A&M and LSU) all had at least two players among the 12 selected to the All-SEC first and second teams.

“If we’re able to defend and rebound the way we need to, it will take us very far,” sophomore guard Riley LaChance said. “We have a lot of depth on our team and a lot of guys at the right spots. So I think we have a chance to be really good.

Voters ranked all 14 conference teams and 14 points were awarded for each first-place vote down to one point for each last-place vote. Vanderbilt edged Texas A&M by 13 points for second place.


1. Kentucky, 406
2. Vanderbilt, 357
3. Texas A&M, 344
4. LSU, 333
5. Georgia, 266
6. Florida, 258
7. South Carolina, 204
8. Mississippi State, 203
9. Ole Miss, 184
10. Auburn, 168
11. Arkansas, 118
12. Tennessee, 86
13. Alabama, 85
14. Missouri, 33

Media members also voted for a five-member all-conference team and the top vote-getters were ranked and divided into a first and second team. Ties were not broken.

This is the second year Jones has earned preseason All-SEC recognition.


First Team
Danuel House – Texas A&M, G, 6-7, 212, Sr., Fresno, Texas
Damian Jones – Vanderbilt, C, 7-0, 245, Jr., Baton Rouge, La.
Skal Labissiere – Kentucky, F, 6-11, 225, Fr., Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Stefan Moody – Ole Miss, G, 5-10, 179, Sr., Kissimmee, Fla.
Ben Simmons – LSU, F, 6-10, 225, Fr., Melbourne, Australia
Tyler Ulis – Kentucky, G, 5-9, 160, So., Lima, Ohio

Second Team
Dorian Finney-Smith – Florida, F, 6-8, 220, Sr., Portsmouth, Va.
Malik Newman – Mississippi State, G, 6-3, 178, Fr., Jackson, Miss.
Charles Mann – Georgia, G, 6-5, 215, Sr., Alpharetta, Ga.
Alex Poythress – Kentucky, F, 6-8, 230, Sr., Clarksville, Tenn.
Tim Quarterman – LSU, G, 6-6, 190, Jr., Savannah, Ga.
Alex Caruso – Texas A&M, G, 6-5, 186, Sr., College Station, Texas

SEC Player of the Year: Ben Simmons, LSU

Oct 21, 2015 1:14 PM