Vanderbilt finally puts away Nebraska

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings made it clear Wednesday night that the Commodores were one of the better teams in the SEC and ready to make a deep run in this tournament.

But what Stallings wasn’t prepared for Thursday occurred -- nervousness.

That’s right. His Vanderbilt team with veteran guards in John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley froze a bit as Nebraska’s rugged, physical style manhandled the Commodores in the first half.

“We were nervous,’’ said Jenkins. “I don’t know why.’’

“Because they care,’’ Stallings said as he walked by in the hallway at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico. “That’s why. They care so much.’’

The Commodores settled down enough to finally pull away a bit from the Cornhuskers after Nebraska had a six-point lead late in the first half. Vandy finally found its groove on 3-pointers, including a trey from forward Steve Tchiengang, and beat Nebraska 59-49 to advance to a semifinal matchup against West Virginia at the Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Huskers will play Davidson in the consolation bracket.

“I think we were just anxious to come out and play,’’ Taylor said. “We were a little overhyped. I think it was in part why we missed some shots that we usually make.’’

The Commodores, who will need the 3s without a reliable post scorer after the departure of A.J. Ogilvy, were 5-of-17 from behind the arc. Jenkins was 1-of-5 while Taylor made both of his 3s.

“I was sitting on the bench and realized I had to get going,’’ Jenkins said. “It wasn’t the prettiest thing, but hopefully we’ll come out and get a W tomorrow.’’

Taylor especially was peeved about his poor free throw shooting, making just 6 of 12 at the line. The Commodores missed eight free throws as a team.

“I can’t shoot 50 percent at the line,’’ Taylor said. “John and I have to establish ourselves early in the first half. I think we’ve settled down now that we have the first game out of the way.’’

Stallings was, and is, confident about this group. On the other hand, Nebraska coach Doc Sadler isn't quite sure what he has this season. What he found out, though, was he has a squad that can hang around and compete against NCAA tourney-caliber teams. Finding a way to finish is within reach.

The Cornhuskers outrebounded Vandy by three and made as many field goals. The problem was perimeter shooting as NU was 0-of-10. Sadler saw some potential after the game, but still wanted a finisher and creator on the perimeter. That might mean more from Toney McCray and Lance Jeter.

Playing Davidson, though, means Nebraska will need to dominate the backboard since the Wildcats are even weaker than Vandy in the frontcourt. If that happens, the Huskers should get back on the winning track.