Damian Jones

Kendall Pollard, Damian Jones
Associated Press

Second-half resurgence pushes Dayton past No. 21 Vanderbilt

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A renewed commitment to working the ball around for quality shots led to Dayton erasing an eight-point halftime deficit (they trailed by as much as 16 in the first half) to beat No. 21 Vanderbilt in Nashville, winning by the final score of 72-67.

Archie Miller’s Flyers shot 59.3 percent from the field in the second half, with improved shot selection being a key factor. After settling for perimeter shots against a team without its leading shot blocker in Luke Kornet in the first half, attempting ten three-pointers (making three), Dayton attempted just five three-pointers in the second half.

Instead the ball went inside on a more regular basis, with Dayton scoring 24 of their 40 paint points in the game’s final 20 minutes. Kendall Pollard, who hit a huge three-pointer in the game’s final minute, scored 12 of his game-high 21 points in the second half and redshirt freshman big man Steve McElvene (ten points, nine rebounds) chipped in with six points and five rebounds.

As a team Dayton outscored Vanderbilt 40-22 in the paint while also controlling the rebounding stats (38.5 percent offensive reb. percentage, 79.8 percent defensive reb. percentage), which led to their holding a 17-2 edge in second chance points.

While Damian Jones accounted for 18 points and eight rebounds, Vanderbilt didn’t get much production from their other front court players on a night when they needed them to step up. Dayton took advantage, and they managed to pick up a result that will look good on their résumé as the season wears on. Also of note is the fact that Dayton is now 12-3 in their last 15 games against SEC opponents.

Dayton has depth, experience and talent, attributes taken into consideration by voters when they were picked to win the Atlantic 10 in the league’s preseason media poll. Yet with an eye towards the future the play of McElvene may be the biggest takeaway for the Flyers. After accounting for 14 points, ten rebounds and four blocks in a win over North Florida the redshirt freshman followed it up with another solid outing, doing so against a big man projected to be a first round pick in June’s NBA Draft.

Dayton has players such as Pollard, point guard Scoochie Smith and forward Charles Cooke to lean on for key contributions. But if McElvene can continue to develop, at his size (6-foot-11) he gives Dayton a piece they’ve lacked in recent years. And with the suspended Dyshawn Pierre expected back at the end of the semester, an already deep Dayton squad will get deeper ahead of conference play.

Prince, Medford lead No. 25 Baylor past No. 16 Vanderbilt

Rico Gathers, Lester Medford
Associated Press
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Given the amount of interior talent on both teams, Sunday’s matchup between No. 16 Vanderbilt and No. 25 Baylor presented the 33 NBA scouts in attendance with a good opportunity to evaluate the likes of Vandy’s Damian Jones and Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. However it would be two Bears who spend a significant amount of time on the perimeter who had the greatest impact on the outcome, a 69-67 Baylor victory.

Versatile wing Taurean Prince scored 30 points to lead the way and Lester Medford added 11 of his 15 in the second half, three of which came on a critical three-pointer with 42 seconds remaining that produced the final margin.

Prince was one of the Big 12’s most improved players last season, and as a senior he’s expected by many to take another step forward for a team with Big 12 title aspirations. But leading into Sunday’s matchup his shooting percentages were lower than what he produced as a junior, shooting 37.3 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from three through six games.

That wasn’t an issue against Vanderbilt, as Prince shot 10-for-19 from the field and 4-for-7 from beyond the arc.

The senior carried Baylor offensively during a critical second-half stretch, as he scored seven points during a 13-0 run that erased a 52-39 Vanderbilt lead. Up until that point the Commodores, even with Damian Jones having a quiet night, appeared poised to run away with the game. Kevin Stallings’ team doesn’t lack for scoring options, and with sophomore guards Wade Baldwin IV (19 points, four assists) and Matthew Fisher-Davis (11 points, five rebounds) serving as the catalysts Vanderbilt established what appeared to be a comfortable margin.

But Prince and Medford, who assisted on three of the baskets scored during the run, turned the game around. And over the final 8:13 those two combined to score 14 of Baylor’s final 17 points, with a Johnathan Motley free throw and a Gathers Sr. (ten points, 13 rebounds) dunk accounting for the other three.

Prince’s effort was obviously critical, but given the questions asked by some of Baylor’s point guard play Medford’s second half may be the most important development moving forward. Entering Sunday the senior had a solid assist-to-turnover ratio, with 5.7 assists and 2.3 turnovers per game, but he was shooting just under 43 percent from the field.

While he did struggle in the Bears’ loss at No. 15 Oregon in mid-November, Medford’s two best offensive outings of the season have come in Baylor’s best wins. There was Medford’s 13-point, nine-assist game in a blowout win over Stephen F. Austin in the season opener, and Sunday night against Vanderbilt he accounted for 15 points, five assists and just one turnover. Baylor has one of the nation’s best front courts, and their ability to both keep Jones (nine points, eight rebounds) and Luke Kornet (seven points, four rebounds) in check and rebound 46.5 percent of their team’s missed shots (Gathers Sr. and Prince had 12 of Baylor’s 20 offensive rebounds) serves as evidence in the affirmative.

But if Baylor is to compete with the likes of Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma atop the Big 12 their perimeter play will be key. Medford stepped forward to assist Prince Sunday night, and that will need to be the case on a consistent basis when conference play begins next month.

The top 15 most improved players in college basketball

Ty Wallace (AP Photo)
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Ty Wallace (AP Photo)

 MORE: The rest of our New Year’s Resolutions | Midseason catchups

Ty Wallace, Cal: I’m firmly entrenched on the Ty Wallace bandwagon, having said repeatedly that there is no player in the country as underrated as Cal’s star point guard. Look at this stat line: 19.3 points, 8.8 boards, 4.2 assists and 46.9 percent shooting from three.

Justin Anderson, Virginia: Anderson’s emergence into Virginia’s leading scorer has been the biggest surprise of the season for me. Always known as a great athlete and teammate, Anderson is now averaging 15.1 points and shooting 60.0 percent from three. He’s not a go-to guy, but he’s been Tony Bennett’s most valuable weapon thus far.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein is starting to live up to his potential this season, becoming the nation’s most versatile defender while anchoring on college basketball’s best defense. A 7-foot-1 center, he can switch ball-screens and has been tasked with stopping an opponent’s best wing scorer at times this season.

source: Getty Images
Robert Upshaw (Getty Images)

Robert Upshaw, Washington: Washington’s emergence as a top three team in the Pac-12 can almost entirely be credited to Upshaw, who has become the nation’s premiere shot-blocking presence. He’s averaging 4.6 blocks in just 20 minutes and has completely changed the way that Washington is able to defend. I’d argue he’s one of the ten most valuable players in the country right now.

Christian Wood, UNLV: Wood is playing like a first round draft pick, averaging 13.9 points, 9.6 boards and 3.0 blocks for the Rebels. He had 24 points and 10 boards in UNLV’s win over No. 3 Arizona on Tuesday night.

Terry Rozier, Louisville: Rozier has done much of what was expected of him this season. His scoring is up to 16.5 points from 7.0 as a freshman, and while he’s not shooting quite as well from the perimeter this season, his percentages are up overhaul and he’s turned into one of the nation’s best, and most important, secondary options.

Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: Someone had to become a scorer for Syracuse this season, and thus far in the year it’s been the senior big man that’s done it. He’s averaging 16.5 points and 8.7 boards, a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating season for the Orange.

Zach Auguste, Notre Dame: Auguste has always had the potential to be a big-time scorer in the paint for the Irish, and he’s finally reaching it this year. Auguste’s averaging 14.8 points through the first month, although it will be interesting to see what happens when the Irish start to play some tougher competition.

Levi Randolph, Alabama: Randolph has become a go-to guy for Alabama as a senior, as he’s now posting some impressive numbers: 16.5 points, 4.9 boards and 3.1 assists for the 8-3 Tide.

Dylan Ennis, Villanova: Who saw this coming from Ennis? He’s Villanova’s leading scorer, their most dangerous three-point shooter and one of the best defenders on the roster.

Stefan Nastic, Stanford: With so much of Stanford’s front line graduating, Nastic’s role has been dramatically increased this year, and it’s paying off. Nastic is averaging 14.5 points and has become one of the better low-post scorers on the west coast.

Justin Moss, Buffalo: As a sophomore, Moss averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 boards playing behind Javon McCrea. As a junior, those numbers have bumped up to 17.3 points and 10.2 boards. Oh, and he did this.

Malcolm Hill, Illinois: Hill started a handful of games as a freshman, but as a sophomore he’s moved into a major role for John Groce. His scoring has bumped up to 12.8 points this year, as the Illini look like they could contend for a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: Jones has developed into the star we expected him to be as a sophomore, averaging 16.5 points and 7.1 boards.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: The Spartans have been a disappointment through the season’s first month, but Valentine has been terrific. These numbers are nothing to joke about: 14.5 points, 5.5 boards, 4.3 assists, 50.0 percent from three.

Vanderbilt’s rebuilding process to rely heavily on underclasmen

Kevin Stallings
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Over the last two seasons Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings has dealt with a significant amount of turnover within his program. There have been transfers, dismissals and even a player returning to his native Germany to begin his professional career. Those changes have resulted in the Commodores fielding one of the youngest rosters in the SEC, with five freshmen joining the program and their leading returning scorer being sophomore Damian Jones.

During the team’s media day Wednesday Stallings discussed the state of his program, with much of the conversation focused on the newcomers and how they’ve begun their careers at Vanderbilt. In a story written by Adam Sparks of The Tennessean, Stallings spoke about the freshmen in relation to players who have left the program before their eligibility expired in recent years.

“I guess I wouldn’t be able to answer that question without being derogatory to the people that have been here,” Stallings said. “We’ve got guys that will do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it, and they’re going to try their best to do what we as coaches want. I think for that reason, the future is really bright for this group of guys because our entire team is that way.

“I haven’t had to worry about something on the weekend, haven’t had to worry about anything in the classroom, haven’t had to worry about anything in the dorm, and it’s a pretty fun job when the biggest thing I have to worry about is trying to get them better on defense. That’s where we’re at, and that’s where we’re going to stay.”

The five freshmen in the Vanderbilt program aren’t lacking for talent either, with Wade Baldwin IV and Shelton Mitchell leading the quintet. They’ll certainly take their lumps, and with that being the case veterans such as Jones and senior James Siakam will need to do their part to help the freshmen get acclimated to Division I basketball.

After two seasons of instability in Nashville, the hope is that this group of underclassmen can help place Vanderbilt back on solid ground. Based upon Stallings’ words at media day, it seems as if they’re off to a decent start. The key now is to ensure that this remains the case once the season begins.

POSTERIZED: Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones has a serious vertical (VIDEOS)

Damian Jones
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Vanderbilt has been one of the most surprising teams in the SEC this season, battling through a series of personnel issues to climb to 5-4 in conference play with a win over Tennessee.

The highlight of the win?

Damian Jones, one of the more underrated freshman in the conference, throwing down this powerful alley-oop.

Vanderbilt guard Eric McClellan suspended for remainder of season

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In his first season of eligibility after sitting out the entire 2012-13 campaign per NCAA transfer rules, Vanderbilt guard Eric McClellan was a pivotal figure in Kevin Stallings’ rotation. Through 12 games McClellan averaged a team-high 14.2 points per game to go along with 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game for the Commodores, but he did not accompany the team to Tuscaloosa on Tuesday night for their SEC opener at Alabama.

On Wednesday it was reported by Jeff Lockridge of The Tennessean that a “violation of university athletic policy” has ruled out McClellan for the remainder of the 2013-14 season. According to a statement released by the school, McClellan is expected to be reinstated this summer. Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, McClellan’s suspension drops them down to just seven scholarship players.

“I want to apologize to my family, coaches, teammates, and the entire Vanderbilt community for my actions that have led to this suspension,” McClellan said in the statement according to The Tennessean. “I take full responsibility for what has happened. I look forward to returning to school this summer and of continuing my goal of earning a degree at Vanderbilt and playing basketball for this coaching staff and with these players.”

McClellan’s suspension leaves the Commodores with three double-digit scorers: senior forward Rod Odom (13.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg), freshman forward Damian Jones (10.7, 4.6) and senior guard Kyle Fuller (10.0, 3.9, 3.7 apg). That triumvirate scored 51 of Vanderbilt’s 63 points in their 68-63 loss at Alabama on Tuesday night, but it was the turnover count (16, compared to eight for Alabama) that made the difference.

Vanderbilt (8-5, 0-1 SEC) plays three of its next four games at home but it is a difficult stretch, beginning with Kentucky on Saturday. The other two home games are against Missouri (January 16) and Ole Miss (January 22), with a game at LSU (January 18) in between.