Roberson returns, leads No. 17 Vanderbilt over Gardner-Webb
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) There was nothing tentative about Jeff Roberson's play Monday night.
After missing Vanderbilt's season opener with a concussion, Roberson returned to the court against Gardner-Webb and had a productive performance off the bench. He scored a career-high 18 points and tied a personal best with eight rebounds as the 17th-ranked Commodores cruised to a 98-62 win.
''Jeff played a man's game tonight,'' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. ''He got in there and was physical, and played great defensively. He was great on the boards, both offensive and defensive. Scored inside, he made it from the perimeter, he drove it and did a great job at the foul line.''
Vanderbilt (2-0) really needed Roberson, too, after starting forward Luke Kornet was sidelined with a sprained ankle with 2:17 left in the first half.
Roberson shot 6 of 8 from the floor and 5 for 6 at the foul line. The 6-foot-6 sophomore from Houston had four offensive rebounds.
''I guess I do whatever I've got to do,'' said Roberson, known more for his defensive abilities. ''Obviously, I wish Luke didn't get hurt, but we have a lot of depth on this team. Throughout the season anybody should be ready because you never know when your time is coming.''
Kornet, a 7-foot-1 junior, was off to a strong start with a team-high 10 points at halftime. His status for Thursday's game against Stony Brook was uncertain.
Riley LaChance added 13 points, including three 3-pointers, for Vanderbilt.
Tyrell Nelson led Gardner-Webb (0-2) with 16 points, and Harold McBride added 10.
The Commodores, who return six of their top seven scorers from last season's NIT quarterfinal team, forced 19 turnovers with their defensive pressure. They outscored the Runnin' Bulldogs 35-9 in points off turnovers.
''We had some poor decisions, but their pressure was a little more than we were used to,'' Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft said. ''We play a little bit different defensively against ourselves, and Vanderbilt's out in the passing lanes a little bit more than us. That impacted us, for sure.''
Gardner-Webb, which beat Purdue and Clemson en route to a 20-win season in 2014-15, had an off night on offense and shot 42 percent from the floor.
Vanderbilt looked crisp on the other end, hitting 58.2 percent. The Commodores went 11 of 23 from beyond the 3-point stripe.
Vanderbilt's Damian Jones, a 7-foot center, had a solid night with 10 points and seven rebounds.
The Commodores went on a 16-0 run capped by Camron Justice's 3-pointer to take a 21-5 lead with 12:32 remaining in the first half.
Strong starts have become the norm in the first two games for the Commodores, who scored the first 21 points on the way to a 28-2 lead in a season-opening win over Austin Peay on Friday.
''I think it's important that we start good, especially on the defensive end of the floor, and obviously we've just got to maintain that to try to put together a whole 40-minute game,'' LaChance said. ''We always talk about playing at our pace - play hard, play smart and play together.''
The Commodores enjoyed a double-digit lead for the rest of the first half, although McBride's 3-pointer from just inside the half-court line cut Vanderbilt's lead to 44-26 at the halftime buzzer.
Gardner-Webb opened the second half with a 9-2 run, cutting the deficit to 46-35 on McBride's 3-pointer with 18:38 left.
But Vanderbilt answered with a 15-0 run capped by Roberson's three-point play to take a 61-35 lead with 14:36 left.
The Runnin' Bulldogs never got closer than 21 the rest of the way.
''Some of our guys looked like deer in headlights out there, especially when we went to the bench,'' Craft said. ''Vanderbilt is good. I thought they were really good on film and one of the better teams that we've played since I've been here in my two years.''
Gardner-Webb: The Runnin' Bulldogs are giving a lot of minutes to seven players who have never played Division I basketball before.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores are averaging 89 points in their first two games, including Friday's 80-41 rout of Austin Peay.
TOUGHER TEST COMING
Vanderbilt's average margin of victory is 37.5 points in its first two games, but a stiffer challenge may be next on Thursday against Stony Brook. ''They've got everybody back from a team that went on the road and won at Washington when they were ranked No. 16 in the country last year,'' Stallings said. ''They've got an NBA 5-man and a very good team. So I think we'll know quite a bit more about ourselves after Thursday night.''
Gardner-Webb hosts Toccoa Falls on Thursday in the Runnin' Bulldogs' home opener.
Vanderbilt hosts Stony Brook on Thursday.