NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A high-scoring blowout might be just what Vanderbilt needed after losing the gem of its recruiting class.
That’s just what the Commodores got as freshman Aaron Nesmith enjoyed career highs of 20 points and 13 rebounds as Vanderbilt played its first full game without point guard Darius Garland in a 120-85 rout of Savannah State on Tuesday night.
It was the most points scored by the Commodores (5-1) since a school-record 130 against Ole Miss in 1970.
“I knew with Darius being out tonight it was a big hole to fill because obviously, he’s our leader so we had to come together collectively as a team,” Nesmith said. “The team definitely used it as fuel.”
Garland, a freshman who was averaging 16.2 points per game, suffered a season-ending knee injury in Friday’s loss to Kent State.
Projected as a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, Garland underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee Monday.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” Nesmith said when he found out Garland was lost for the season. “He sent the team a text and I texted him and told him, ‘Please tell me this wasn’t true.’ But sadly, things happen, but God has a plan for him and I know he’s going to be alright.”
Garland and Simi Shittu formed the heart of Vanderbilt’s best recruiting class in school history. Both players were five-star prospects and McDonald’s All-Americans last season in high school.
Forward Clevon Brown, a 6-foot-8 junior who blocked four shots, moved into the starting five as the Commodores reshuffled with a bigger lineup. Saben Lee switched from shooting guard to point guard.
Shittu, a freshman who will be relied on more, scored 17 points and had five assists.
Yanni Wetzell, a 6-10 transfer from Division II St. Mary’s (Texas), added 15 points off the bench.
“I think the biggest shock was when I first came to practice last summer,” Wetzell said of the adjustment from DII to DI. “It took me about three to four months to adjust to the speed of the game, coming from DII.”
Eight Commodores broke into double figures, including Maxwell Evans with 16 points, Toye with 13, Lee and Matt Ryan with 11 each and Matthew Moyer with 10. Vanderbilt shot 63 percent from the floor.
Savannah State (3-6), transitioning from Division I to II after the season, got outplayed in nearly every phase of the game.
Vanderbilt outscored Savannah State 53-31 in points in the paint and 23-9 in fast-break points. The Commodores outscored the Tigers 21-9 at the foul line and 27-16 in points off turnovers.
Freshman reserve Collins Joseph led four Tigers in double figures with 21 points and he added five assists, while Jaquan Dotson scored 17. The Commodores started quickly, shooting 62 percent from the floor in the first half to take a 65-37 lead at the break.
Savannah State: The Tigers lost their fourth in five games as they were outmanned at nearly every position.
Vanderbilt: Life Without Darius began with a lopsided win as the Commodores reshuffled their lineup.
‘BROTHER FOR LIFE’
Garland plans to remain with the team for the rest of the season. “He’s going to be with us every step of the way,” Nesmith said. “He’s a brother for life no matter what happens. He’s always with us, we’re always with him.”
Commodores coach Bryce Drew said it’s been an emotional rollercoaster the last couple of days. “First, I’m just crushed for him that he doesn’t get to play,” Drew said. “He was playing so well. We ran a lot of offense through Darius. His parents joked that they were going to buy him a black suit and a gold tie for the rest of the year, so I was like, great we’ll bring him down and let him coach with us.”
Savannah State doesn’t play its next home game until Jan. 19. The Tigers’ 10-game road swing includes December stops against two ranked teams in the Big 10: No. 22 Wisconsin and No. 14 Iowa.
Savannah State: Visits Gardner-Webb on Saturday in the third of 10 straight road games.
Vanderbilt: Visits North Carolina State on Saturday in its second road game of the season.
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