Vandy steps up its defense in win over Middle Tennessee
By CHIP CIRILLO
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Bryce Drew didn't like Vanderbilt's defensive effort four days ago.
But the Commodores coach was much happier after his team's 79-51 win over Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders hit only 36 percent from the floor.
"Our players worked really hard on defense the last couple of days," Drew said. "We wanted to come out and defend much better. I thought it was our best effort and execution on the defensive end."
The Commodores (6-2), who lost point guard Darius Garland to a season-ending knee injury on November 23, rebounded from Saturday's loss to North Carolina State.
Middle Tennessee (3-6) missed 12 of 14 3-pointers and never got closer than 19 in the second half.
Vanderbilt's Simi Shittu scored 15 points and Matthew Moyer, a Syracuse transfer, added a season-high 14.
"I just got cleared two weeks ago, so all I've got to do is stay positive and stay the course and help the young guys out," Moyer said. "It was a tough loss (to NC State) because of the effort. We knew we needed to come out with effort and energy."
Vanderbilt ended a three-game losing streak to Middle Tennessee, increasing its lead to 30-7 in the series.
"Vandy took advantage of its open opportunities," MTSU coach Nick McDevitt said. "Knocked down open shots. Just shot the ball very well."
Antonio Green, who scored a career-high 30 points in Saturday's loss to Lipscomb, led the Blue Raiders with 18 points as Middle Tennessee lost its fifth straight game after starting the season 3-1.
"We feel like we're getting better, but it's depressing losing," said Green, who is three points shy of 1,000 for his career. "We've got a tough schedule."
MTSU's Reggie Scurry added 14 on 6 of 9 shooting.
Vanderbilt went 18 of 19 from the foul line (95 percent) and made nine 3-pointers.
Vanderbilt took charge early, grabbing a 42-21 halftime lead as Middle Tennessee missed 18 of its first 26 shots.
Aaron Nesmith led the Commodores with eight rebounds and added nine points.
Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders' slump continued as they struggled offensively.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores still are adjusting to the loss of Garland, who sat on the bench for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He was projected as a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Middle Tennessee's Darnell Butler, a Seminole State (Okla.) transfer, was ruled eligible Wednesday. Butler, who averaged 19.2 points and 5.5 rebounds last season, didn't enter the Vanderbilt game until the final 82 seconds.
A moment of silence was held before the game to honor Vanderbilt tight end Turner Cockrell, who died Thursday after a one-year battle with melanoma. He was 21.
Middle Tennessee: Hosts Murray State (4-1) on Saturday.
Vanderbilt: Hosts No. 20 Arizona State (7-0) on Dec. 17 after a 12-day break for final exams.
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Updated December 5, 2018