GAME NOTES: The Big 12/SEC Challenge continues on Monday night, as the Vanderbilt Commodores pull into the Frank Erwin Center in Austin to take on the Texas Longhorns.
Vanderbilt was a participant in last week's Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and after suffering an opening-round loss to Providence (67-60), it found redemption with back-to-back triumphs over Morgan State (75-66) and Loyola-Marymount (77-68). The Commodores are off to a 4-2 start, although they lost their only road bout against Butler on Nov. 19, 85-77 in overtime.
Texas is also off to a fast start at 6-1, which includes a perfect 5-0 mark at home. The Longhorns traveled to Kansas City early last week to play in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, losing to BYU (86-82) before defeating DePaul (77-59). They then returned home on Friday to capture a 72-69 victory over sister school Texas-Arlington.
Vanderbilt leads the all-time series with Texas, 4-2, although the teams haven't met since 1989.
The Commodores trailed Loyola Marymount by three points late in the second half, but they went on a 9-2 run to retake the advantage, and they knocked down 9-of-10 at the foul line in the final 1:11 to seal the nine-point win. In addition to their strong performance at the foul line (24-of-32), they were also solid from the floor (25-of-52). Kyle Fuller led the way with 20 points and helped put the game on ice at the line (8-of-10). Eric McClellan added 16 points, while Josh Henderson and James Siakam scored 11 points apiece. Vanderbilt has been stellar on offense this season, shooting 49.1 percent from the field for 75.8 points per game, but as the same time has allowed more points than is ideal (72.5 ppg). McClellan (16.8 ppg) is the team's leading scorer, and also pitches in with 4.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest. Rod Odom (13.7 ppg) and Fuller (11.8 ppg) have also been effective for the 'Dores.
The Longhorns suffered a scare at home versus UTA, as they trailed by eight at the half, but thanks to a hot-shooting second stanza (.520), they were able to run past the Mavericks and hold on for a three-point win. Demarcus Holland tallied 23 points and 11 rebounds, both career highs, while shooting 9-of-13 from the floor. Cameron Ridley also logged a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, while Prince Ibeh and Isaiah Taylor scored 11 and 10 points, respectively. UT's impressive record has been backed up by its statistical performance, as it boasts positive margins in scoring (+9.3), rebounding (+10.4) and turnovers (+2.5), all while shooting a solid 45.5 percent from the floor. The balanced starting lineup sees all five players score at least 9.1 points per game, led by Jonathan Holmes (13.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg). Holland (12.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Ridley (9.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg) are imposing forces in the frontcourt, while Javon Felix (10.9 ppg) and Taylor (10.4 ppg) combine to hand out 6.3 assists per contest.
Texas certainly wasn't at its best against UTA, and if it comes out flat against the Commodores it might not be able to recover. Still, the Longhorns survived the scare and will be even more prepared to keep their unbeaten home mark alive.
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