November 15, 2015

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings is counting on a few tough preseason scrimmages to get his team off to a strong start in 2015-16.

After Luke Kornet had a major impact in an outstanding season opener, Jeff Roberson is expected to get his shot for the No. 17 Commodores.

With Roberson slated to return from a concussion, Vanderbilt will be even more formidable defensively in its first meeting with Gardner-Webb on Monday night.

Stallings scheduled early scrimmages against North Carolina and Virginia in the hopes they would get his players ready for the rigors of the regular season, and they couldn't have responded any better than they did Friday.

The Commodores scored the first 21 points en route to an 80-41 rout of Austin Peay, holding the Governors to 21.9 percent shooting - including 1 for 16 from 3-point range.

"We've had a couple scrimmages against two of the best teams in the country, and I'm not surprised we were on our game because we've been on our game most of the fall," Stallings said. "So confidence comes from knowing what to expect, and I have confidence in our team because they give me reason to expect that they're going play hard."

That's certainly true for Kornet, who had 13 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks - all in the first half. The 7-foot-1 junior forward is expected to take on a major role after averaging 8.7 points, 3.4 boards and 1.1 blocks while starting 14 of 35 games last season.

"It's something I'm definitely working on," Kornet said of his evolution into a strong presence in the paint. "With the amount of shooters that we have and the way that we can move the ball, I don't really have to hit the 3s. There are times when I need to, but we can just keep moving the ball and I'm just going to keep trying to affect the game as much as I can, even if it's on the interior."

Kornet is only one of the reasons the interior is a major strength for Vanderbilt, which boasts two additional 7-footers in centers Josh Henderson and Damian Jones. And they're about to get some help with Roberson expected to make his debut after he was a late scratch Friday due to his head injury.

The forward is a noted defensive specialist but showed flashes offensively as a freshman last season, shooting 48.5 percent overall and 15 for 33 from long range. He averaged 4.7 points and 3.1 rebounds.

"He needs to get out and play, but he can't until they say he's ready," Stallings said.

Gardner-Webb has been outscored by an average of 24.7 points while losing nine straight meetings against ranked opponents - all on the road.

The Runnin' Bulldogs enter this matchup after shooting 31.7 percent, including 6 for 23 from 3-point range, in a 76-59 loss at Iowa in their opener Friday.

Tyrell Nelson led the way with 12 points and Harold McBride was the only other Bulldogs player in double figures with 10.

Nelson averaged 13.9 points last season and had 15 with eight rebounds in a loss at then-No. 3 Arizona on Dec. 2.

McBride is entering his first season as a starter after averaging 8.0 points in a reserve role as a junior in 2014-15.

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