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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — James Siakam plays so well off the bench that Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings decided to return him to the starting lineup.
Siakam scored 17 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds in his first start of the season, leading the Commodores to a 79-50 win over Pennsylvania on Monday night.
Siakam started 28 games last year, but went to the bench after missing the season opener to attend his father's funeral in Cameroon.
"He's just a very active player and he's a relentless offensive rebounder, and that's something that our team needs desperately," Stallings said. "I thought James' energy was real key on both ends. James is an energy guy."
Stallings was disappointed by Vanderbilt's energy level in the second half of Saturday's loss at Georgia Tech, so he inserted Siakam into the lineup against Penn (3-6).
Siakam scored the Commodores' first six points and finished 7 of 8 from the floor and 3 of 4 from the foul line. Vanderbilt had been outrebounded in Saturday's loss at Georgia Tech, but had a 22-9 edge in the first half against Penn on their way to a 40-29 lead at the break.
"For me, (starting) is just another role on the team," said Siakam, who had four offensive rebounds. "Whatever the coach gives you; you just go out there and do your best to help the team. That's kind of what I tried to do today."
Wade Baldwin IV scored 16 for Vanderbilt (8-3), including two 3-pointers. Damian Jones entered the game as the SEC's fifth-leading scorer and added 15 points and six rebounds.
Jones had 13 points during a key stretch in the first half as the Commodores made a 20-7 run to take a 30-22 lead. Vanderbilt pulled away to a 57-32 lead after opening the second half with a 17-3 run.
Tony Hicks led Penn with 16 points and Matt Howard added 11.
"I just think they were a lot tougher than us, primarily in the paint," Penn coach Jerome Allen said. "They scored 40 points in the paint and we had 50 for the game. I thought Siakam and Jones got whatever they wanted. To their credit, they imposed their will on us."
Stallings won his 300th game with the Commodores. He is in his 16th season at the private school in Nashville and is the winningest coach in school history.
Vanderbilt took advantage of its depth by outscoring Penn's bench 29-9.
"We have a great team and we have guys coming off the bench: myself, Matthew Fisher-Davis, James for the most part — he comes off the bench and now it was Luke (Kornet)," Baldwin said. "So everybody is contributing and it's clicking."
It was the first meeting between the schools since Vanderbilt's one-point win in 1986.
Penn: The Quakers fell to 6-17 against teams that currently play in the Southeastern Conference.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores, who host Yale on Jan. 3, improved to 19-5 all-time against the Ivy League.
Vanderbilt guard Shelton Mitchell led the Commodores with seven assists. Fellow guard Riley LaChance made a team-high five steals, but he had an off shooting night with a 1-of-6 showing from the floor.
Penn couldn't get its 3-point shots to fall as the Quakers made just 5 of 19 for a 26.3 percent clip, including 1 of 9 in the second half.
Penn visits La Salle on Dec. 30. It will only be Penn's third game in three weeks.
Vanderbilt visits St. Louis on Dec. 31. It will be the second road game for Vanderbilt, which has also played two games on a neutral court.
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