KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Once again Vanderbilt came up short Tuesday. But once again it showed flashes that there is still time to put it altogether.
The brightest of those flashes inside Thompson-Boling Arena came from Jordan Wright, a freshman who scored a career-high 23 and kept the Commodores in the game before they faded late in a 65-61 loss to Tennessee.
“My confidence is always pretty high,” Wright said. “(This) just adds to it and it’s just show the work I’ve been putting in is paying off.”
Vandy needed Wright in a big way Tuesday.
Four of its key cogs – Ejike Obinna, Maxwell Evans, Scotty Pippen and Dylan Disu – picked up two fouls each in the first half. That quartet went and sat with a trio of injured players – Aaron Nesmith, Clevon Brown and Matthew Moyer – who made the trip but didn’t dress.
Wright picked up the slack with 14 in the first half as the Commodores went into the locker room tied 28-all with their arch-rivals.
The contest then went back and forth mostly for the first 12 minutes of the second half until Wright’s layup with 7:20 to play made it 49-48. But Vandy wouldn’t score for another 5 1/2 minutes – and the Volunteers (15-11, 7-6 SEC) took advantage.
A 12-0 run virtually put the game to rest before the Dores scored 10 points in 50 seconds near the end. It was too little, too late as Jordan Bowden knocked down two free throws with six seconds to go providing the final margin.
“We’re getting the looks that we want from the people that we want,” Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse said after his squad shot 36.2 percent from the field. “It’s not a lack of effort, not a lack of anything from their standpoint. It’s just not going in for us. So hopefully it’ll turn.
“We’re not going to ease away from it. We’re going to continue to approach it the same way we have all year. We’ll come in and get our work and continue to be monotonous in our approach and just making sure we’re going over everything. Basketball is a game that comes down to making some shots. That’s what we have to do at a better clip than we did. If we shoot a little bit over 40 percent tonight we probably win this game.”
Vanderbilt (9-17, 1-12 SEC) returns home to host Georgia (12-13, 2-10 SEC) at 5 p.m. Saturday and will be looking to break a four-game losing skid. But it’s not as if Stackhouse’s club is getting blown out of the water in its defeats this season.
Five of the Dores’ 12 league losses have been by an average of 6.6 points. Getting surprise individual performances, like the one from Wright on Tuesday, have certainly helped the team get close time and time again.
And may be a sign of the team breaking into a win streak sooner than later.
“We’re excited who he has been of recently and who he’s going to be for us in the future,” Stackhouse said of Wright. “He just has the knack for scoring the ball, he has a toughness about him. He’s learning. The next progression for him in his development is not only being able to go get his own but to be able to facilitate for his teammates because he’s going to start drawing more attention.
“He probably wasn’t the highlight on everybody’s scouting report – but he will be. I think when that happens now he has to make plays.”
Vandy now plays three of the next five games of the regular season inside Memorial Gymnasium. If it continues to fight for 40 minutes like it has it done in most games it will undoubtedly put itself in position to win games.
And if Wright and his teammates can figure out a way to have big-time games on all the same night, then all bets are off.
“Coach says all the time it’s going to turn and I feel like we showed that at the end of the game,” Wright said. “We had our fight in us and we weren’t going to give up. I think it’s only up from here.”