NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse has a much deeper bench for his second season than for his first.
One constant remains: Scotty Pippen Jr.
The sophomore guard scored a career-high 25 points as Vanderbilt held off Valparaiso 77-71 Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
Pippen put Vanderbilt ahead to stay by scoring six straight starting with a pair of free throws with 4:24 left at 61-59. He also knocked down all 14 of his free throws. Stackhouse said that was big for Vanderbilt, which shot 85.7% (23 of 27) at the line.
“I’ve just been working on my free throws a lot,” said Pippen, who shot 70.9% at the line as a freshman. “Last year, I wasn’t satisfied with the percentage I had. So this year Coach Stack been on me for shooting free throws a lot.”
Vanderbilt improved to 3-0 all-time against Valparaiso, and the Crusaders snapped an eight-game winning streak in season openers with their first loss since 2011 when they also opened on the road losing at Arizona.
Maxwell Evans added 16 points for Vanderbilt.
Mileek McMillan led Valparaiso with 18 points. Donovan Clay added 14, and Ben Krikke had 13.
This was Vanderbilt’s latest start in 31 years dating to the 1989-90 season against Southern Methodist on the same date. It’s a game the Commodores have been waiting for since March 11 when they played in the final Southeastern Conference Tournament game before the league canceled the event.
No fans were allowed inside Memorial Gym. Both teams stayed on the end lines with benches turned into chairs spaced out for physical distancing. When Nick Robinson picked up his fourth foul within the first couple minutes of the second half, someone yelling “No” echoed throughout the gym.
Valparaiso tied Vanderbilt at 34 at halftime, and the Crusaders led by as much as five, the last at 59-54 on a layup by Krikke with 6:52 left.
D.J. Harvey, who sat out last season after transferring from Notre Dame, started a 14-2 run with a 3. Ejike Obinna tied it at 59 with a layup, and Pippen put them ahead to stay with a pair of free throws. Vandy pushed the lead to as much as 10 inside the final minute.
Valparaiso: The Crusaders picked up where they left off last season shooting the 3. They made 287 3s last season, and they hit 7 of 15 in the first half but struggled outside the arc in the second (4-of-20) finishing 11-of-35.
Vanderbilt: Stackhouse starts his second season with a much deeper roster thanks to five freshmen and a trio of transfers now available. He’s using the nine nonconference games to work out his best combinations, and 10 different Commodores scored with a total of 12 playing. … The Commodores also dominated the boards 44-34. Dylan Disu had a game-high 11 rebounds.
Stackhouse wanted his Commodores to hold onto their double-digit lead late but they didn’t. The coach said someone told him that Vegas had Vanderbilt favored by six.
“Hate it for those bettors …,” Stackhouse said with a laugh. “It still baffles me how those folks get that because I know we didn’t do a lot of things right, and it felt like we should’ve had a little bit more separation in that.”
Valparaiso will visit Illinois-Chicago on Tuesday night.
Vanderbilt is scheduled to play UConn on Tuesday in the Romans Legend Classic in Uncasville, Connecticut.
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