On opening night of the 2018-19 basketball season, the Vanderbilt Commodores started three players who had never suited up for the team before — Darius Garland, Simi Shittu, and Matt Ryan — and all three had a big impact in a win over the Winthrop Eagles to get the season started with a win.
With that many newcomers, however talented, you kind of expected a slow start and that was what you got. Winthrop actually led for a few minutes as Vanderbilt had trouble getting, well, dunks to go down. But the tide started to turn about midway through the first half when Saben Lee elevated for his first dunk of the season, and then Ryan — the Notre Dame transfer who sat out last season — really got things going by knocking down three consecutive three-pointers to give Vanderbilt its first lead of the game.
Vanderbilt Mens Basketball Player Preview: Stars ready to shine
And then Darius Garland — one of the two touted freshmen — started to take over the game toward the end of the first half. Garland was quiet for the first few minutes of the game, but the relentless attacking of the basket eventually started to pay dividends. Garland hit a basket at the first-half buzzer to give Vanderbilt a 47-40 lead going into the locker room, and while the Commodores never truly put the game away until the closing minutes, they mostly kept Winthrop at arms length throughout the second half, coasting to a 92-79 victory.
Garland ended his Vanderbilt debut leading all scorers with 24 points. Simi Shittu had 18 points and 10 rebounds in his debut, while Matt Ryan had 16. Joe Toye and Saben Lee had 12 apiece.
Highly-touted freshman and former five-star recruit Darius Garland made his long-awaited debut for Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
Garland strung together a game-high 24 points of 9 of 15 shooting to go along with four assists and two steals in 36 minutes. The Commodores (1-0) outscored Winthrop 92-79 inside Memorial Gymnasium and next travel to Southern California at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Garland, wearing gold shoes, started alongside Shittu, Joe Toye, Saben Lee and Notre Dame transfer Matt Ryan. A Brentwood Academy graduate, Garland got the loudest ovation – by far – during player introductions in pregame.
The freshman and former McDonalds All American nearly got on the stat sheet at the 17:56 mark with a slick dish to Shittu, but Shittu missed a dunk. He took his first seat on the bench with 12:47 left in the half after starting 0-for-3 from the field with a steal.
Garland came back in at the 11:49 mark and hit a 3 less than 15 seconds later (that extended Vanderbilts streak to 1,032 straight games with at least one made triple). Winthrop answered that with a 6-0 run to take a 22-13 lead, but two straight assists from Garland – one an alley-oop to Lee and another to Shittu for an easy bucket in the lane – cut the score to 22-19.
Down 26-21, Garland found Ryan in the left corner for a 3. On the next possession the two hooked up again and Ryans second 3 gave Vandy its first lead at the 7:51 mark. A third straight Ryan 3 put the Dores up 30-26 and brought the crowd to its feet.
With 5:03 to go in the half Garland hit a runner that put VU up 36-26 and completed a 17-0 run making it 36-26.
Garland finished a silky smooth up-and-under layup from left-to-right on the baseline giving the Commodores a 41-32 advantage with 2 1/2 minutes left in the half. He provided one final highlight before heading into the locker room, drilling a cross-over, step-back two from just inside the arc to make it 47-40.
Garland started the second half with a mid-range jumper to put Vanderbilt up 54-45 followed by a pair of free throws that gave him a game-high 17 points.
With 10:45 to go, off an inbound play, Garland shook his defender in the right corner and buried a 3. That gave the Dores some breathing room at 73-63.