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December 21, 2006Vanderbilt took care of business in their first two games in the San Juan (PR) Shootout, but came up short in the tournament championship game, falling 87-79 in overtime to Appalachian State.
Vanderbilt was up 51-47 midway through the second half, and appeared to be on the verge of taking control of the game. But the Commodores went on a six minute scoring draught that saw ASU take a five point lead that forced VU to claw back to tie the game in the final minute of regulation.
ASU hit 8-of-9 free throw attempts in overtime to seal the win.
Appalachian State's fate was greatly helped by gaining their gaining the services of Donte Minter, a 6-8 forward who transferred from Fork Union Military Academy. Minter, who became eligible for the tournament, came off the bench to go 11-14 from the field, scoring a game-high 27 points for the Mountaineers.
Before the San Juan Shootout, Minter had not appeared in a live game since March of 2005. His was named co-MVP of the tournament for his three-game performance.
Five-foot-eight point guard D.J. Thompson (18) and 6-7 wing Jeremy Clayton (14) were the only other double-figure scorers for ASU, which improved to 10-3 on the season. With the loss, VU falls to 8-4.
Vanderbilt was led in scoring by senior Derrick Byars with 18, including three clutch 3-pointers. Ross Neltner (16), Dan Cage (14), and Shan Foster (12) closed out the double digit scoring for the Commodores. All of Cage's points came in the second half.
The difference in the game was on the glass, as Vanderbilt was out-rebounded by a resounding 41-28 margin. Thirteen of ASU's boards were offensive rebounds, which helped the Mountaineers out-score the Commodores 17-4 on second chance points.
"That's just something where if we're going to beat good teams we've gotta box out," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings. "We're not a big team inside...so we've gotta be a great box out team. Today we were not."
Vandy, which has increasingly relied on its 3-point shooting ability this season, attempted just five free throw attempts for the game, all in the first half. ASU was just 7-23 from three, but 14-17 from the free throw line.
"That's why we're on the losing end of this game tonight," said Cage. "They played more aggressive than we did, especially on the defensive end. Minter basically never missed, taking shots from four feet. And if he missed it he'd get his own rebound and put it back. It's frustrating for us, and it's been our achille's heel for some time. We need to go back to the drawing board and get better."
Vanderbilt had a chance to win the game in regulation, when junior point guard Alex Gordon stole the ball at midcourt with just four seconds left and the score tied at 71. But Gordon, believing the clock was about to expire, shot the ball sooner than he needed to, and missed a 21-foot leaner, sending the game into overtime.
The fact that the Commodores could have easily sealed the win at the end of regulation left Vandy's players with bitter disappointment as they head into the Christmas break. "I felt bad for Red," said Stallings. "He could have gone up and shot a layup and end the game, and I guess he thought we were telling him to shoot it. We were telling him to go, go, go, you've got time.
"We could have won that game. We should have won that game."
"You can't put blame on Red," said Cage. "He's got the ball at half court and he's focusing on the game. He sees all of us on the bench screaming our heads off, because we think we're going to win -- but he thinks we're telling him to shoot it. It's unfortunate circumstances, but that's not why we lost the game. No blame goes to Red for that play."
Minter, who played his first two college seasons at Virginia, scored ASU's first five points in overtime, including a three point play on a foul by Byars. The Commodores missed all three of their 3-point attempts in overtime, and couldn't keep ASU off of the offensive boards.
"We played pretty good basketball for quite a while, but we just weren't on our game," said a hoarse Stallings, who coached three games in three days. "We were a half a notch off, and I don't know if I can blame our players for that. It's just the way it is sometimes.
"They had two guys who exposed us, their point guard and their big kid inside. Ted got into foul trouble again, which didn't help any because he was our best guy to guard (Minter)."
The Commodores became the first SEC team in history to lose to Appalachian State, which competes in the Southern Conference. VU was 17-0 against ASU heading into today's contest. Vandy's last defeat came at the hands of another SoCon team, Furman. The Commodores had been on a seven-game winning streak before today's loss to ASU.
"We're just really disappointed," continued Stallings. "We didn't play well enough to win, and they are a very good team. They are a completely different team with (Minter)."
Cage and Byars were selected to the San Juan Shootout All-Tournament team.
Vanderbilt will be off for a Christmas break until a December 29 game with Alabama A&M in Nashville. VU then closes out its preconference schedule on January 2 at Rice in Houston, before playing its SEC opener at Auburn on January 6.