NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Saben Lee, simply, put it best.
“It’s been a long time.”
But Wednesday was different.
Finally – finally – that losing streak against Southeastern Conference competition fell by the wayside.
And it was no fluke.
Vanderbilt led for all but 4:48 against visiting No. 18 Louisiana State and pulled away down the stretch for a rousing, demon-exorcising, 99-90 win at Memorial Gymnasnium. The Commodores hadn’t beaten a team from the SEC since March 3, 2018.
“You never know until you know,” Lee said about when the realization set in that Vandy was going to win. “When that final buzzer went off, that’s when all that emotion came out.”
Lee scored 33 – a career high – and provided the highlight of the night with a one-handed dunk stemming from the left baseline that fueled the upset energy in the building. Evans was the star in first half by scoring 25 – nine more than his previous career high. He finished with 31.
— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) February 6, 2020
Freshman point guard Scotty Pippen Jr. finished with 13 and provided the dagger, a late 3 that had the crowd of 9,256 bursting at the seams. Fellow freshman Jordan Wright added 11 and his steal and layup with 4:58 to play gave Vandy an 84-83 lead.
The Dores never trailed again.
“It was some real feeling and emotion about what we’ve been through,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “It’s been a tough year just from the standpoint of losing guys and everything and last year with those guys it was probably even more special and emotional for them.”
Stackhouse inherited a 20-game SEC losing streak. The dubious stretch continued Jan. 8 with an 83-79 setback at Auburn.
Then Nesmith, the team’s star shooter, broke his foot. And the Commodores were already without Brown due to a knee injury. A loss to Texas A&M, at Arkansas, to Tennessee, to Alabama, at South Carolina, at Kentucky and last week to Florida followed.
Even though the latter two results were by nine and six points, respectively, Vandy seemingly remained so far away from victory despite being oh so close. But the Commodores never strayed from the course.
“Our morale ain’t been bad. You see our guys? Our guys don’t hang their head,” Stackhouse said. “They come to work every day. They come to work and bring the same hard-hat mentality that they played with tonight. We told them if they continue to do that things will turn.
“I feel like if we continue to play and do the things that we do we can have more nights like this. This is not the end-all for us. This is not what we want to accomplish, to win one game in the SEC. Glad that we did. Now we got that monkey off our back and now y’all can write something else. But now we start talking about building the team that we’re trying to build.”
Stackhouse’s team certainly had a blue-collar look about it Wednesday.
The Dores and Tigers traded tough baskets throughout the first 7 1/2 minutes before an Evans 3 made it 18-14. Another Evans 3 four minutes later made it 28-23.
LSU responded and eked ahead 29-28 on an Emmitt Williams layup. But Evans rose to the occasion again with six straight points that were followed by a Lee layup giving Vandy a 39-32 edge.
Up 13 with 1:51 left in the half, Vanderbilt had to settle for a 52-47 edge at the break. The margin hovered in that vicinity in the second half until the Tigers went on a 9-0 run to surge ahead 83-80 as the clock hit 5:53.
But then Pippen scored with 5:17 to go before a Wright steal at half court turned into two more points and an 84-83 lead for the home team. Suddenly it felt like it was meant to be.
“I can’t even tell you how I feel right now,” Evans said. “Just excited, proud of the guys – Saben, Scotty, everyone in that locker room right now.
“Coach Stackhouse never gave up on us. Every day in practice we go hard. It has to translate to the game sometime, so it translated tonight. I’m just proud of everyone.”
Maxwell Evans now has 31 points on 10 of 15 shooting (seven 3s) pic.twitter.com/RXXlAiLq9K
— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) February 6, 2020
Vanderbilt (9-13, 1-8) now turns the page toward trying to put together a winning streak in conference – something that hasn’t happened since Feb. 14-17, 2018, when it beat Mississippi State and Florida, respectively, in consecutive contests. The Commodores travel to Mississippi State (14-8, 5-4 SEC) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Plenty of time for Stackhouse to dry off from his celebratory shower in the chaotic, postgame locker room.
“These guys have worked their butts off and they deserve what just happened to them – a big-time win against a great team,” Stackhouse said. “They did it by staying together and competing at a level that we eventually want to have that consistency for us. Just a consistent level of effort. So proud of them.”
How’s it feel, coach ⁉️
— Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball (@VandyMBB) February 6, 2020