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November 6, 2013

Vandy holds on to beat UAH, 66-60

NASHVILLE -- The rebuilding process began tonight at Memorial Gym for the Vanderbilt men's basketball team. After VU's lone exhibition game of the 2013-14 season, it's clear head coach Kevin Stallings has a lot of things to work on.

Vanderbilt had a seven point lead at the half, and stretched it to 12 in the second, but hot-shooting from UAH's guards sent them on a 15-2 run, and a one point lead with nine minutes left. But Kyle Fuller drained two free throws, and the Commodores gutted out the final few minutes for a 66-60 win.

The game was the coming-out party for Tulsa transfer Eric McClellan, who led the Commodores with 20 from the field. McClellan, who sat out last year after one season with the Golden Hurricane, was 5-of-16 from the field, including 8-of-10 from the free throw line.

The other main attraction for Vandy hoops fans was true freshman center Damian Jones. But Jones, a 6-foot-10 athlete from Baton Rouge, did not attempt a shot from the field in 15 minutes of playing time and finished with just three points -- all from the charity stripe -- and three rebounds.

Seniors Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller had 15 and 12 points, respectively, for VU.

Alabama-Huntsville, which competes at the Division 2 level, got 25 points from guard Wayne Dedrick and another 16 from wing Connor Blasi. The two combined for 16-of-30 from the field.

In the final analysis, the Commodores shot 42 percent from the field, and 26 percent from 3. Defensively, VU struggled against a UAH four-guard offense, which caused match-up issues both outside and in.

"That's why we play these," said Stallings. "[Alabama-Huntsville] does a good job of spreading you out. They make it ugly defensively and expose you. Their offense is such that with five guys out on the perimeter, it made for an ugly day for Josh [Henderson] and Damian [Jones]."

Despite having considerably more size than UAH, Vanderbilt's interior players struggled with foul trouble. Finding themselves out of position more often than not, VU continually found itself lunging at shooters and, consequently, being in inopportune position to block out underneath.

Jones took to the bench midway through the second half with four fouls and eventually fouled out in just 15 minutes of playing time.

"We couldn't achieve much rhythm because of foul problems," said Stallings.

James Siakam took many of the playing time that had been expected by Jones, and played 19 minutes, grabbing a team high eight rebounds. Siakam also had a thunderous dunk down the stretch that put Vanderbilt ahead for good.

"He got offensive rebounds and kept plays alive," said Stallings. "Every guy for us did something good at the end of the game. We have worked hard on certain situations and got ourselves into one tonight."

McClellan, who played both point and shooting guard during the contest, admitted to a case of butterflies after watching from the bench for all of last year. McClellan said he felt the team was not aggressive enough on both ends of the court, and needed more time to gel as a team.

"You know I think a lot of the guys were a little tentative," said McClellan. "I think that comes with it being an exhibition game and getting some nerves out. Kinda a new group of guys, well it's the same group of guys, but some guys aren't used to playing as much so I guess it's just getting some nerves out and getting used to playing with each other."

Freshman Luke Kornet, the son of former Commodore basketball star Frank Kornet, saw two minutes of action in the first half and did not score.

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