Without Darius Garland, Vanderbilt basketball puts SEC hopes on freshman Simi Shittu – The Tennessean


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Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew addresses an 81-71 loss to Ole Miss in his post-game press conference.
Nashville Tennessean

Name a Vanderbilt basketball freshman in recent memory with a bigger burden than Simi Shittu. It’s a short list, but he likes being on it.

Shittu, averaging 14.9 points per game, could become the first Vanderbilt freshman to lead the team in scoring since Al Miller in 1981. Before that, Charles Davis (1977) and Mike Rhodes (1978) did it.

And the big asterisk with Shittu is that he was supposed to be half of a dynamic freshman duo. But when point guard Darius Garland suffered a season-ending knee injury, Shittu took on twice the load.

“I’ve been playing in that (starring) role since high school and elementary school. This is just a bigger stage,” said Shittu, who will lead Vanderbilt (9-4, 0-1 SEC) at Georgia (8-5, 0-1 SEC) on Wednesday (5:30 p.m., SEC Network).

“But I don’t see myself as a younger guy on the court. Playing up to the competition is what matters.”

Shittu earns SEC honor in loss; now seeks win

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Shittu earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors, in part, for a performance he graded as a “C-plus” in Vanderbilt’s 81-71 loss to Ole Miss Saturday. He scored a career-high 21 points but missed critical free throws down in the stretch.

Shittu, one of top high school prospects in the nation last year, said afterward, “Nerves? No, I don’t get nervous.”

But coach Bryce Drew saw inexperience as the source of his team’s miscues late in the loss to Ole Miss. There were missed foul shots, a brief defensive lapse and a costly turnover during a stretch when the Commodores lost composure.

Shittu recovers from injury, loss of Garland

Shittu was one of five Commodores playing in their first SEC game. And though few of those mistakes were his, the 6-foot-10 freshman wants to prevent such slip-ups. Drew said Shittu is steadily learning to share the load.

“I know he wants to win really bad, so he wants to go out and win the game (with a great individual performance),” Drew said. “In high school, sometimes you can do that. But in college, there are a lot of good players on the court.

“I thought when Darius first got hurt, there were some games (Shittu) was trying to take a lot on his shoulders. But I thought he was really good last game.”

Shittu spent most of his offseason rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered a year ago, which leads Drew to believe the freshman’s best basketball will come later this season.

“He was basically thrown right in before the season started with a few weeks of practice,” Drew said. “So as the season progresses, I think we’ll see even better things on the defensive end and better conditioning.”

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RECAP: Vanderbilt basketball falls to Kermit Davis, Ole Miss again

COLUMN: Kermit Davis outfoxed Bryce Drew, but Vanderbilt is no dog

Reach Adam Sparks at asparks@tennessean.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.

Top scoring Vanderbilt freshmen

1. Mike Rhodes (1977-78): 18.8*

2. A.J. Ogilvy (2007-08): 17.0

3. Charles Davis (1976-77): 15.3*

4. Simi Shittu (2018-19): 14.9*

5. Al Miller (1980-81): 14.6*

*Led team in scoring. This season Darius Garland (16.2) led Vanderbilt through five games, but an injury ended his season.

 


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