Dec. 7, 2011
And Stallings is glad he did.
In his first game this season, the 6-foot-11 center scored 15 points in 21 minutes, and Jeffery Taylor scored a career-high 30 points as the Commodores withstood a furious rally to beat Davidson 87-83 on Wednesday night at Belk Arena.
“At the shoot-around he didn’t look good,” Stallings said. “He had looked better in practice (Tuesday), but I had pretty much decided I wasn’t going to play him. He came to me before the game and said, ‘Don’t hesitate to put me in.’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And he said, ‘I’m positive.’ ”
Ezeli didn't start but entered the game early after Steve Tchiengang got in early foul trouble and was a huge presence inside with six rebounds and two blocked shots before fouling out in the final seconds. Ezeli missed the first six games of the season after being suspended by the university for accepting meals and a hotel room from a booster, and two more because of a right knee injury.
“We don’t win this game if Festus doesn't play. I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Stallings said. “We did not get good play from our starting bigs, especially early.”
John Jenkins had 22 points for the Commodores (6-3).
De’Mon Brooks led Davidson (6-2) with 24 points, 18 in the second half.
Ezeli sprained two ligaments in his knee six weeks ago, but said he’s getting close to 100 percent.
“It feels great,” Ezeli said of his knee. “I have been itching to play for a while, and so it was good to be back out there with these guys. That’s why I'm here. I’ve felt a little useless on the side.”
Taylor topped his previous career-high of 27 by converting 12 of 17 shots , many of those on driving layups .
“They had a hard time guarding Jeff last year, too,” Stallings said. “He’s a bad matchup for them. He’s a tough guy for them to guard. He can get to the rim and he was making his shots from the perimeter. He played a great game and was good on the defensive end, as well.”
“Before the game we talked about being aggressive with the ball and trying to get in the lane, whether that be through the pass or the drive,” Taylor said. “And Coach and my teammates have talked to me about staying aggressive throughout the game. I feel like I did a good of that today. And also, shots were going in so that helps.”
Vanderbilt led by as many as 18, but Davidson pulled within 86-83 on a 3 by J.P. Kuhlman and six free throws in the final 31 seconds. But Brad Tinsley sealed the win by hitting one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left.