NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Here come the Commodores.
Vanderbilt will be soaring into next week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament after a rousing, 83-74 win over South Carolina on Sunday at Memorial Gymnasium.
“Let’s go catch white lightning, man,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “We’re at home, we got all our fan support, hopefully everybody is excited about this – go buy some tickets for the SEC Tournament and come out and support us.”
The victory was Vanderbilt’s second in a row – not exactly a momentous occasion, but important nonetheless considering this team hasn’t had a winning streak since December and the program hadn’t won consecutive league games since February of 2018. But after Saturday’s triumph, and an 87-79 win at Alabama on Tuesday, Vandy (11-20) has all the momentum it needs to, simply, believe.
The Commodores face Arkansas, Missouri or Ole Miss at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena.
“Right now we’re going into the SEC tournament and you want to go in on a high note and I think this is as high of a note as we’ve had all year,” Stackhouse said. “It’s because we’re doing the right things and we’re playing the game the right way.”
Stackhouse, in his first season at the helm of the program, has faced rocky waters in Year One on West End.
Midway through last month, forward Matthew Moyer injured his shoulder and has been held out the past six games.
Vanderbilt also suffered through losing streaks of nine and seven games. But this week it showed all of that mattered little in two impressive wins to end the regular season.
“It’s just confidence,” Vanderbilt junior guard Max Evans said on the team’s recent play. “Coach Stackhouse never gave up on us. We just want to make our team proud.”
On Saturday, Vandy faced one of – if not the – most-physical teams in the SEC in South Carolina (18-13, 10-8 SEC). And the Gamecocks began to impose their will at the end of the first half.
Maik Kotsar’s jumper with three minutes to go until halftime gave the Gamecocks a 34-24 lead and quieted the Memorial Gymnasium crowd. That would be the last little moments of enjoyment the visitors would have.
“We went up 10 and Vanderbilt changed the channel,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “They just ratched it up a notch and we never responded, never put up a fight.
“From that point on they dominated the rest of the game.”
The Commodores ended the half on a 9-1 run thanks to five straight points from Dylan Disu and an Evans 3. It became more apparent early in the second half it would be more of the same from the home team.
Saben Lee’s alley-cop flush with a two-handed dunk made it 43-39. Braelee Albert drained a 3 making it 46-41. Scotty Pippen’s finish at the rim had it at 48-41. Three straight Lee buckets 5 1/2 minutes later gave Vandy a 62-52 edge.
Pippen ➡️ Lee pic.twitter.com/BZbuRuhttA
— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) March 7, 2020
That quiet crowd from the first half had turned raucous.
“They had a little stretch there in the first half where they got a little separation – it’s just because we weren’t being who we were, not paying attention in transition, not seeing the ball, things that we talk about all the time and they were running it down our throat,” Stackhouse said. “Once we paid more attention, we were seeing the ball, we were able to keep a body in front of the ball and got back into the game and started pushing ourselves in the second half.”
Pippen Jr. wound up leading the Commodores with 21, mostly because the freshman went 15 of 16 from the line. Evans, who scored 15 in the first half, finished with 20 and Lee scored 19 to go along with four assists and four rebounds.
Disu chipped in 13 and Ejike Obinna brought in 12 rebounds.
Vandy was out-rebounded, outscored in points in the paint (by 20) and had six shots blocked. But much like a metaphor for the season as a whole – the Dores just kept coming.
“Another gutsy win for our guys man,” Stackhouse said. “Our guys came in with a hard-hat mentality of really working the game. Probably the most-physical team that we played all year and I thought we were just as physical as they were. Just a great effort by all of our guys.
“It’s a big-time win for us to close the season. Like I told these guys, let’s try to be a little greedy. With the SEC Tournament coming up, we’re excited about where we are right now with our game and how we’re playing and I hope we can keep it going.”