By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – As Kansas State prepared to face Vanderbilt on Sunday, Wildcats coach Bruce Weber expected his team to have its hands full with Commodores senior forward Jeff Roberson.
“He was the top guy I had on the list when we put up the scouting report,” Weber said.
Roberson proved why the Wildcats had reason to worry. The senior scored a season-high 22 points in the tight 84-79 loss to Kansas State at Memorial Gym, one point shy of his career high, and hauled in a game-high 10 rebounds. That tally included six offensive boards.
Roberson now has an SEC-leading five double-doubles through eight games and leads the league with 9.4 rebounds per game. Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said Roberson’s glass-cleaning prowess belies his 6-6 frame.
“With his size, to get six offensive rebounds and have another double-double, it’s a great compliment to him and to the effort and passion he’s playing with,” Drew said.
Roberson came up big in key moments against Kansas State. His two free throws with 4:22 remaining cut the Wildcats’ lead to one, 68-69, after the visiting squad had led by as many as 16 points. But turnovers and fouls plagued the Commodores late, all while Kansas State knocked down 14 of 16 free throws in the second half.
Despite Vanderbilt’s 3-5 start, Roberson has once again established himself as one of the more versatile players in the SEC. He led Vanderbilt in rebounding (7.0 per game) as a junior last season while routinely bodying up against bigger forwards. This season, Roberson leads the Dores in scoring (14.4 points per game) while also shooting 38 percent on 3-point baskets.
To Roberson, his production is the byproduct of experience; he has now played in 108 career games. Now it's his job to make plays as a senior, he says.
“Just having to step up and be a leader on the team, show through my actions first,” Roberson said. “Just try to play hard. If you play hard, good things will happen.”
Roberson’s adaptability did not go unnoticed to Kansas State’s Weber.
“He’s the heart of their team,” Weber said on Sunday. “He plays tough, is undersized and knows how to play. He plays so hard. He’s so versatile -- he can go inside and he can go outside.”
Still, Roberson’s primary focus is helping his team win. That begins with closing out big games. Three of Vanderbilt five losses have come by single-digits, including a 93-89 overtime loss to then-No. 10 USC on Nov. 19. The Commodores’ road doesn’t get easier, either, with upcoming games against top-100 opponents Middle Tennessee and Arizona State this week.
That’s why Roberson doesn’t focus on box scores.
“You can’t really look down the road,” Roberson said. “You can only focus on the team coming, and Middle Tennessee beat us last year. We’ve just got to focus on them, lock in and do the things we need to do to come out with a win.
“It’s not good enough to be in these close games. We’ve got to get wins.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.