Vanderbilt pulls away in 2nd half, beats UNC Asheville 79-76
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jeff Roberson’s big night was both a highlight and a red flag for Vanderbilt.
The 6-foot-6 forward from Houston had 17 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Commodores to a 79-76 win over UNC Asheville in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Friday night.
Roberson became the first Commodore to post three consecutive double-doubles since Dan Langhi in 1998.
“Jeff’s been tremendous,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. “His focus at practice, especially the last two weeks, has been the best that we’ve seen from him and I think it’s showing in his play. On the flip side, we have to have other guys who help him rebound. We can’t let him get every rebound.”
Matthew Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance each added 17 points for Vanderbilt (2-1). Djery Baptiste chipped in 13 points.
“He’s huge for us,” LaChance said of Roberson. “With us being a little undersized and having to play small at times, a lot of rebounding falls on him. So he does a great job for us - he’s done that for four years now.”
Roberson logged a team-high 37 minutes of playing time as he recorded 11 defensive rebounds, hit all eight of his foul shots and blocked two shots.
“I think he’s one of the best four men that we’ll face all season, if not the best,” Bulldogs coach Nick McDevitt said. “He’s versatile . he can put it on the deck, he can shoot it, he’s strong, he’s athletic. There’s not much he can’t do.”
Alec Wnuk led UNC Asheville (1-2) with 19 points and MaCio Teague added 18. Ahmad Thomas scored 13 points and Kevin Vannatta chipped in 11 before fouling out with 7.5 second left.
Teague’s 3-pointer from the top of the key narrowed the deficit to 78-76 with two seconds remaining, but that was as close as Asheville got in the second half.
Vanderbilt hit 22 of 29 foul shots, including 13 of 17 in the second half.
“They definitely made some big free throws down the stretch,” Wnuk said. “We were hoping to get one of those. So they did what they’re supposed to do: go up there and knock those down.”
The Bulldogs made a 10-0 run to take an 18-8 lead early in the first half and led 37-35 at halftime.
UNC Asheville led for much of the first half before Vanderbilt took charge in the final 20 minutes.
Vanderbilt rebounded from Monday’s upset loss at Belmont with four players scoring in double figures.
Vanderbilt opened the second half with an 11-2 run and the Commodores never trailed after that. “They were really good coming out of the locker room to start the second half,” McDevitt said. “They beat us by nine in about three and a half, four minutes, and that proved to be the difference in the game. I thought we could have made better decisions with shot selection.”
Roberson, Fisher-Davis, LaChance and Baptiste each scored in double figures for the Commodores. “That gives us a lot more stability and when you’ve got guys like Djery giving us that kind of energy - 13 points, eight rebounds when he was in there - that’s huge,” Roberson said. “I hope we can get that from him every night. That was awesome. Hopefully, it was a confidence builder and we can keep building on it.”
UNC Asheville visits Austin Peay on Sunday for a matchup against the Governors (1-2), who gave first-year coach Matt Figger his first win with a 109-50 rout of Oakland City on Wednesday.
Vanderbilt hosts 10th-ranked Southern California (2-0) on Sunday. The Trojans return most of their roster that won a school-record 26 games last season.