An intrastate rival gave Vanderbilt a scare in its last game. The No. 15 Commodores hope for an easier time against their next such opponent.
Vanderbilt (11-0) looks to match its best start in school history when it hosts Tennessee-Martin on Saturday.
The Commodores, who started the 2003-04 season 12-0, have not played since a 83-74 win over Tennessee State last Saturday. Vanderbilt trailed by two at the break and nine points in the second half before rallying.
“As a team we feel like down the stretch, when the games are close, we’re the best team in the country,” said Shan Foster, who had 22 points and a career-high 12 rebounds for his third career double-double. “We have a lot of players on this team who can make big plays and are willing to make big plays.”
Last Saturday’s game was the second close contest the Commodores have played this month, including a 91-85 overtime win at DePaul on Dec. 12. Coach Kevin Stallings credits the veteran leadership of his team for being able to pull out close games. Vanderbilt has three senior starters, including Foster, who leads the Commodores with 20.5 points per game, and Alex Gordon, who is third with 10.6.
“They provide us leadership and show us how we’re supposed to compete,” Stallings said. “They have good leadership and toughness, which gives us an opportunity to win even when we’re not playing our best.”
The starting lineup also includes Australian center Andrew Ogilvy, who is shooting over 67 percent from the floor while averaging 19.0 points to lead all SEC freshmen.
The win over Tennessee State began a six-game homestand for Vanderbilt, which has won 13 consecutive non-conference home games.
“We try to take it one game at a time,” Foster said. “We don’t look forward at all. We’re just focused on our next game. … Once you start looking forward to games instead of improving, you have problems.”
The Commodores look to take advantage of Tennessee-Martin (5-7), which have lost three straight, including a 74-48 loss to UNLV last Saturday. The Skyhawks scored just 16 points in the opening half and shot just 26.7 percent from the field.
Lester Hudson scored 26 points, but the other four starters combined for just five.
Hudson, who is averaging 26.7 points as one of the top scorers in the nation, hasn’t been enough to help the lackluster effort on offense recently. The Skyhawks are averaging 68.4 points in five games this month.
“What this team has to figure out is how to put 40 minutes of basketball together,” coach Bret Campbell told the Skyhawks’ official Web site.
Vanderbilt is the second ranked opponent Tennessee-Martin has faced this season. The Skyhawks opened the season at then-No. 3 Memphis, losing 102-71.
The Commodores has won all four matchups against Tennessee-Martin, including a 94-60 win in their last meeting on Nov. 29, 2003.