Darius Garland takes over with 33 points for Vanderbilt in 79-70 win over Liberty

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Darius Garland takes over with 33 points for Vanderbilt in 79-70 win over Liberty

Photo by Shun Ahmed

Photo by Shun Ahmed

Photo by Shun Ahmed

Photo by Shun Ahmed

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

If you haven’t heard, Darius Garland is Vanderbilt Commodore.

The freshman point guard had himself a night for the Commodores on Monday, putting up 33 points en route to a 79-70 victory over the Liberty Flames. It was the best scoring performance by a Vanderbilt freshman since Mike Rhodes put up 34 in 1977.

Garland’s scoring explosion came after he put up just three points against Alcorn State on Friday night.

“There’s a lot of times we could have made the extra pass,” head coach Bryce Drew said of Garland’s performance on Friday. “There were some times where I thought Darius got in the lane and he kind of forced passes and he had a few turnovers last game that should have been shots. I think the beauty about him is that he can control a tempo by scoring or not scoring, and that’s a very special trait that he has.”

Despite the winning result, Vanderbilt still has a lot to work on. The Commodores turned the ball over 14 times and allowed the Flames to hang around in key spots.

“I think we have a long way to go,” Garland said. “We’re really talented, but there’s a long stretch that we have to get better at. Defense is one of the aspects and I think Coach Drew is going to really take to that and really be on us next practice.”

The Commodores were able to score from long range in the opening minutes of the game as both Matt Ryan and Joe Toye drilled three-pointers. However, Liberty stayed in it by attacking the rim and scoring from inside the paint.

Liberty started looking towards the outside as the paint became clogged. Darius McGhee and Elijah Cuffee made back-to-back three-pointers to take a 20-18 lead with 12:00 remaining in the first half.

Simisola Shittu found himself in foul trouble early with a couple of fouls on the offensive end before the 10-minute mark of the first half, and the Commodores found themselves down by four points.

That was when the three-ball woke up. Garland hit an extremely deep jumper, and a broken play led to a long two-pointer from Ryan to put Vanderbilt back in front.

Coming out of the ensuing timeout, head coach Bryce Drew switched his team into a zone defense, which started to stymie the Flames attack.

“Simi got in foul trouble, and so we wanted to play them a little longer, and that put him in jeopardy of getting that third foul and having to have him sit for the rest of the half too quickly,” Drew said. “They were scoring in our man too quick, so we were hoping the zone could maybe change the tempo for us. Thankfully, they missed some shots and we got out in transition.”

Near the end of the first half, the Commodores ran the fast break and Aaron Nesmith lobbed up an alley-oop to Saben Lee to electrify the Memorial Gym crowd. Liberty wouldn’t go quietly into the locker room, however, and the score remained a close 37-33 at halftime.

Vanderbilt went back to a man-to-man defense at the start of the second half as Shittu picked up his third foul. The Commodores went cold on the offensive end, and a Lovell Cabbil three-pointer for Liberty made it 41-40 in favor of Vanderbilt with less than 16 minutes to go in regulation.

Garland proceeded to take over and put up Vanderbilt’s next four points, but the offense sputtered from there as Liberty kept it at a one-possession game as the 10-minute mark approached.

Out of the next timeout, Moyer started feeling it on the offensive end, hitting a three-pointer and scoring off an offensive rebound. He found Ryan in the corner for a fadeaway three-pointer, but Liberty continued to answer the bell and keep the game within striking distance at 56-47 at the final TV timeout.

“It’s been a whirlwind with him,” Drew said of Moyer. “He just hasn’t had a lot of reps with the guys that have been playing. I thought he had the five biggest points of the game when they made a run and cut it to one. I thought his length on defense really helped us. As he gets more comfortable, I think it’s just going to help our team get better.”

Garland followed that up with an and-one on a baseline drive to pad the lead to 12. The freshman point guard continued his hot stretch with another three-pointer to stretch the lead to 17 with around seven minutes to go.

Minutes later, Ryan hammered Liberty’s Keenan Gumbs as he drove for a layup, and received a flagrant foul and technical in the ensuing exchange of words, resulting in an ejection. However, Liberty missed both technical free throws.

“They just told me to watch the video and I’ll understand,” Drew said of the ejection. “I’m going to watch that and hopefully have a good understanding.”

Shittu kept Liberty at arm’s length with an aggressive bucked and a foul on a brilliant drive through the lane. Garland followed that up with a shake-and-bake leading to a deep three-pointer, and Shittu put an exclamation point on the effort with a monstrous slam dunk to put the game to bed.

Once again, the Commodores demonstrated how their depth will help them in the long run. When one player goes cold or gets closed off by the defense, other players step up.

“As you look to our team as a whole, the beauty if this team is that in each game, defenses are going to defend us differently and different guys are going to have opportunities to step up,” Drew said. “Last game, Simi had 20 and Darius had three. Today, that was almost reversed. There’s going to be days that they key on those two and other guys are going to have to step up and score. I think it’s going to change how defenses are guarding us throughout the year.”

Vanderbilt moves on to face Kent State on Friday at 4 pm at Memorial Gym.

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