Nov. 12, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Vanderbilt got an impressive debut performances from some new faces Tuesday night to help head coach Kevin Stallings tie the school's all-time wins record.
Freshman Damian Jones had 19 points and seven rebounds, while transfer Eric McClellan scored 18 to help the Commodores pull away from Georgia State for an 86-80 season-opening victory. Rod Odom, one of two VU seniors, also scored 19 points including five 3-pointers.
"I'm pretty sure of what we have. Now it's a matter of us getting to be as good as we can be," said Stallings, who tied Roy Skinner (1961-76) with most victories as Vanderbilt head coach (278).
Odom, the team's top returning scorer, hit two 3s early to close it to 12-10 after four different GSU shooters hit 3-pointers the first 4:07 for a 12-7 lead.
Jones, a 6-foot-10 center from Baton Rouge, La., gave the Commodores a boost off the bench early with five straight points including a dunk to launch a 10-2 run for a 20-16 lead.
In a game that saw 16 lead changes and 10 ties, Jones hit a big jumper and Dai-Jon Parker sank his third 3-pointer to push Vanderbilt ahead 78-73 with 1:06 left.
"They kept throwing out so many guys," GSU coach Ron Hunter said. "We knew (Jones) was a freshman. What I didn't want was that other guy.I knew McClellan and Odom would play well. Whoever that other guy would be, I didn't know. He was terrific. If he doesn't like Vandy, he has a home."
Jones' jumper that gave Vanderbilt the lead for good was about a 17-footer after most of his baskets came inside, including alley-oops and other dunks.
"For me, I wasn't very surprised," Odom said. "That's what we expect out of him night in and night out. He's a special player, and that's what big-time players do. I'm looking forward to seeing some more."
Stallings, who liked his team's resolve to pull out the victory, said the freshman has a lot to learn but could go up and catch almost anything thrown his way.
"I have confidence I can go out and do this stuff," said Jones, who got in foul trouble in an earlier exhibition. "I had to prepare myself mentally."
VU senior Kyle Fuller hit a pair of free throws with 45.1 seconds left for the largest lead in the game (80-74) since 8:09 remaining.
Odom had back-to-back 3s for Vanderbilt down the stretch and sank a pair of free throws with 9.8 seconds for an 84-80 lead. McClellan, a transfer from Tulsa, added two fouls shots for the final points.
"This was a dangerous game," Stallings said. "That team can really score. It's an odd game too because and, we knew this going in, they play 40 minutes of zone."
GSU transfer Ryan Harrow, who started 24 games last season for Kentucky, had a game-high 27 points for the Panthers (1-1). He lost to the Commodores in the Southeastern Conference tournament in his last game with the Wildcats.
"We all know how my last game against Vanderbilt was, so my competitive juices have been going since summer time when I saw this game on our schedule," Harrow said. ". It hurts to lose but it helps to see play this caliber of a team and hold our own. It's still early in the season."
Sophomore R.J. Hunter scored 21 points including three 3-pointers for Georgia State.
Devonta White's two free throws cut it to 82-80 with 10 seconds remaining for the Panthers, picked as a preseason Sun Belt favorite by several outlets.
GSU's Coach Hunt said his team lost "to what I think is the best team on our schedule."
"We're just a bunch of castoffs and we feel we're going to put this team together," the Panthers coach said. "We've got a veteran group but they haven't all played together."
Curtis Washington scored seven straight points as GSU built a 46-42 advantage early in the second half, capped by White's pull-up jumper.
McClellan's second 3-pointer put Vanderbilt back ahead 57-54, while Jones blocked a shot on the other end and Shelby Moats' basket stretched it to 59-54. The Commodores took their largest lead with 8:09 left, 64-58, on Odom's third trey and his assist to Moats.
Stallings, in his 15th season at Vanderbilt, is now 14-1 in season-openers. The Commodores, who had no seniors last year, had lost three players in the offseason including two starters.
"It's definitely going to benefit us down the road," Odom said. "We lost a lot of close games last year. I feel like these close games early in the season will give us confidence for what we'll face on the road and in the conference."