When it feels like there is a lid on the basket and nothing seems to be going right, you wouldn’t usually put George Drake at the top of the list of players who would be most likely to keep Vanderbilt in the game.
However, on Tuesday he was that player for the Commodores. Although Vanderbilt lost the game 76-63, Drake did everything he could to keep the Commodores within shouting distance. The Calera, Ala., native came off the bench to score a career-high 16 points on 8 of 15 shooting, while grabbing six rebounds.
Drake’s points not only paced the Commodores, they also came during critical moments where it seemed like the game was close to getting away. On three occasions, Drake had bursts where he scored four and six consecutive points to bring the crowd back into the game, while cutting into the Vols’ lead.
On a night when it was evident that Vanderbilt’s freshmen were fighting nerves, it was Drake – the team’s most experienced player – who was the team’s steadying hand.
As a redshirt junior, Drake has been through more games than anyone on the team, and it was because of that experience that Head Coach Kevin Stallings believes Drake was so efficient.
“He is experienced and this game doesn’t bother him,” Stallings said. “We had some guys with the jitters out there when it started and no matter how much I tried to talk them out of it, they were jittery when the game began.”
If Drake was jittery, he sure hid it well from the opening tip on. His first four points ended Vanderbilt’s scoring drought in which they started the game 1 of 9 from the floor.
Drake elevated his game even further in the second half, where he scored 12 of his 16 points. With Tennessee holding a 37-26 advantage, Drake followed a tip-in with a steal and a lay-in to pull Vanderbilt within seven (37-30) with 14:53 to play.
Drake’s final scoring run, and also his best, came with Tennessee leading 49-36 with 11:17 to play. He scored six straight points to cut Tennessee’s lead to single digits, 51-42, with 9:57 to play. During the run, he also added a rebound and a steal, which he converted into a layup.
“My job is to do what I have always done which is to come off the bench and provide energy and tonight that’s what I felt like I did,” Drake said.
Drake did provide the energy, but it wasn’t enough to spark the rest of the team. He shot 53.3 percent from the floor, while the rest of the team managed to make just 27.9 percent of their shots. His eight made baskets also accounted for 40 percent of the team’s makes.
On a night where nothing seemed to go right on the offensive end, Drake’s performance was the silver lining for the Commodores on an otherwise cold night inside Memorial Gym and in Nashville.