by Ryan Schulz
The postseason is where upperclassmen are supposed to shine and it’s where freshmen are supposed to wilt under the bright lights and pressure. Just don’t tell that to Vanderbilt freshman sharpshooter John Jenkins.
On a night when the Commodores desperately needed a player to step up against an opponent that had given them fits all year, Jenkins did. The Hendersonville, Tenn., native single-handedly took the bite out of the Georgia Bulldogs on Friday in Vanderbilt’s 78-66 quarterfinal victory in the SEC Tournament.
The long-range marksman poured in a career best 25 points on 7-of-10 shooting, but what may have been more important was his timing. After building an eight-point lead at the half, Georgia went on a 6-0 run to pull within two, and it appeared the game would remain close throughout.
Jenkins had other plans.
With the Commodores holding a 47-42 lead following five straight points by Lance Goulbourne, Jenkins took over the game. Beginning with a three-pointer at the 11:35 mark, Jenkins would score 12 straight points for Vanderbilt, giving the Commodores their largest lead of the game (59-47) with 8:21 to play. Jenkins would add another four points to bury the Bulldogs, while extending Vanderbilt’s lead to 18, 69-61 with 5:30 to play.
“If he’s left open, he’s unstoppable,” Head Coach Kevin Stallings said. “And if we can get him open, he’s unstoppable because he’s got to make open shots.”
Jenkins’ shots were falling in the second half, but it was a different case in the first half for the freshman, who made just 1-of-4 three-point attempts.
“Coach (Stallings) was telling me to go out there and be more aggressive,” Jenkins said. “That’s what I did. In the first half I came out slow, trying to get myself into it. In the second half, I just really let loose.”
Jenkins ability to get loose for open shots keyed the demise of Georgia and overshadowed a 34-point game by the Bulldogs’ Travis Leslie.
Jenkins played a career-best 32 minutes and was on the court more than any other Commodore besides Jermaine Beal. His play against he Bulldogs may have earned him a few more minutes on Saturday when Vanderbilt takes on Mississippi State in the SEC semifinals.
And if Vanderbilt is going to get past Mississippi State, it may need another strong shooting performance from Jenkins to do so. Thankfully for Commodore fans, poor shooting and Jenkins go about as well together as oil and water.
“There just are not very many days during the week where you see him not have a good shooting day,” Stallings said. “His jumper is fundamentally flawless and he has a high level of belief in it … and so does his coach.”
(Photo by John Russell)