NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Vanderbilt Commodores are so short-handed that there are nicknames being circulated to best describe them.
Magnificent Seven. Scrappy Seven.
The Commodores aren't too picky about what they're called. They're just trying to survive — and win — in the Southeastern Conference after injuries, departures and two suspensions left coach Kevin Stallings with only seven scholarship players at the start of conference play.
Junior guard Dai-Jon Parker has played all 40 minutes in five games this month, senior Rod Odom forward has gone all the way in four and senior guard Kyle Fuller has three. They are three of the SEC's top four in average minutes played in league competition with Parker averaging 39.4 minutes, Fuller 38.6 and Odom 36.9 with 11 games remaining.
Parker and Odom have played 120 consecutive minutes since 1:27 of a loss at LSU on Jan. 18.
"It's almost a dream come true for us," Parker said of playing so many minutes. "But playing in the SEC is a little bit difficult going night in, night out with these guys basically playing SEC football out here the way the physicality is."
Vanderbilt (11-8, 3-4) now has won two straight and three of its last five after a 59-54 win at Georgia on Wednesday night. Fuller rested 26 seconds in that victory or the senior guard's total would match Odom for 40-minute games.
Now the Commodores are back home for three straight games starting Saturday hosting Mississippi State so they at least get a break from traveling. The storm that hit Georgia on Tuesday forced the Commodores to fly first to Atlanta, then to Greenville, S.C., before they bused into Athens leaving no time for a shootaround.
"It's nice to feel this thing is shifting in our direction a little bit," Stallings said.
Stallings, in his 15th season, can't recall having a team where he had to play even one man a full 40 minutes.
He had little margin for error after losing three players last summer, including his leading scorer suspended for a year. Center Josh Henderson tore his left ACL after eight games, and leading scorer Eric McClellan was suspended before being kicked off the team the first week of January at the start of SEC play.
Stallings added manager Rob Cross to the roster Jan. 16 to give him enough players to practice, though a bruised shin for one player limited Tuesday's practice to 20 minutes before Stallings switched to shooting and a walk-through.
Coming into this week, a team had two or more players play 40 minutes in regulation 59 times this season according to STATS LLC. Darius Gardner of American University leads all Division I players with 10 games logging all 40 minutes in a non-overtime game, and 36 Division I players had gone 40 minutes at least four times.
Ice baths and stretching with the strength coach are key in helping these Commodores stay fresh. Odom said he is one of the luckier players as a senior with classes only three days each week, giving him more time to rest. No one has nodded off in class yet, something Parker said would get back quickly to Stallings.
On the court, they have to avoid foul trouble and turnovers. Hitting the boards is a must as well, and they've been doing well enough that Stallings believes his Commodore 7 are good enough.
"That's if we can keep these seven healthy," Stallings said. "We obviously can't afford anything to go wrong with these guys and so every day when I see our trainer I just look at him like you better not be here with bad news because we can't' take any bad news on the injury front. We're going to hang in there and keep battling."
(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)