NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Kevin Stallings insists he tried to warn his seventh-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores about Cleveland State.
They sure didn't listen.
The Commodores were outplayed from the opening tip in losing 71-58 to Cleveland State on Sunday in a regional game in the Legends Classic, snapping a home nonconference winning streak at 20.
"The older guys should know," Stallings said. "I told them we were getting ready to play a very good team. They won 27 games last year. You don't fall off the turnip truck and win 27 games. And maybe, maybe we were completely ready and just got beat by a team that's a lot better than us. Maybe that's what happened. They were sure a lot better than we were today."
Vanderbilt began the year with its highest preseason ranking since starting at No. 5 in 1965. Stallings has all five starters back for the first time in his 13 seasons, with four of them seniors, though Festus Ezeli could be sidelined for eight weeks after spraining his right knee.
But Cleveland State is just about as experienced with four seniors back from a team that won the Horizon League last season, missing only Norris Cole, who was a first-round pick in the NBA draft. The Vikings hadn't played since an exhibition Wednesday night and looked very fresh, while Vanderbilt (1-1) appeared sloppy and slow after opening Friday night with a late tipoff against Oregon.
John Jenkins, the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer with 19.5 points last season, had 17 for Vanderbilt. Lance Goulbourne added 11.
D'Aundray Brown, who led Cleveland State with 18 points, had seven steals and helped hold Vandy senior Jeffery Taylor to nine points with six turnovers.
The Commodores got off to shaky start and never recovered. Jenkins missed all four shots from the floor in the first half, and the starters combined for 15 turnovers. Goulbourne said he was embarrassed.
"They outworked us. They outfought us," he said. "We didn't play as hard as we needed to play to come out and win this game."
Trevon Harmon made a 3-pointer for the game's first basket, and Cleveland State never trailed. The Vikings had 15 steals and forced 21 turnovers overall.
Harmon finished with 11 points and Jeremy Montgomery added 10.
"We continually tried to cross the ball over in front of them, and they just continually kept taking it," Stallings said. "I wish they would have sent us a Federal Express package that said, 'We are going to take your ball if you cross it over in front of us because we're good.' Apparently we didn't get the memo because we kept doing it. I really liked how they played."
Memorial Gym was barely half full with the early tipoff, and the Vikings jumped to a 37-24 halftime lead. They outshot Vanderbilt, hitting 50 percent (27 of 54) compared to 35.3 percent (18 of 51) and scored 22 points off the Commodores' turnovers.
"Definitely, it's a great win. It's a really great win," Montgomery said. "We've just got to go back to the drawing board and get better."
Vanderbilt never got closer than six in the final 10 minutes and lost at home against a nonconference opponent for the first time since a 74-55 setback against Illinois-Chicago on Dec. 3, 2008.
With this event's setup, Vanderbilt will host Bucknell in another regional game Tuesday night.
"We'll see how we respond," Stallings said. "That's always the $94,000 question when you get into the season."
Against the Vikings, the Commodores had more turnovers through the first 13 minutes (nine) than they had in their opening win over Oregon (eight), and one of those came when they couldn't inbound the ball quickly enough. Vanderbilt wound up with more turnovers in the first half (13) than made shots (seven).
Cleveland State repeatedly drove down the lane for easy baskets and led 37-21 before Vanderbilt's Steve Tchiengang converted a three-point play with 33.7 seconds left in the first half.
Vanderbilt used a 14-2 run to close to 41-38 with 13:31 left. But the Vikings responded with a 9-2 spurt, capped by Charles Lee's bucket with 9:50 left that made it 50-40.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company