NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There was a sea of red and black Saturday in Athens, Georgia.
The University of Georgia held a victory parade followed by a celebration at Sanford Stadium in honor of the school’s football team which Monday had won a national championship in football.
Vanderbilt’s basketball team, meanwhile, went about its business after arriving Friday to the north Georgia town. It held a typical pregame shoot-around Saturday morning and showed up to Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.
In between all those stops the Commodores wove in and out of troves of Georgia fans who filled the city as if it were a college football Saturday in the fall.
That energy then appeared to bleed into the Bulldogs’ basketball gym at tipoff. Vandy could do little to stop Georgia on the defensive end and missed virtually everything it threw up on the offensive side of the court.
But then everything changed in the second half – and Jordan Wright put his team on his back.
“I think my teammates, really. They kept picking me up the whole time,” Wright said and what to credit for his performance. “I missed those first two 3s and (Scotty Pippen’s) like, ‘Keep shooting, keep shooting.’ Every time I went to the bench, coaches, everybody is uplifting me. So once I saw that first one go down it felt good.”
Wright, a junior, had been in a serious slump. He was 18-for-66 (27.3 percent) from the field in his past seven games and was averaging just 8.4 points per game during that span.
Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse, however, said knew that Saturday may be the night for Wright to break out when he saw the guard fight for a tough offensive rebound early in the first half.
Wright would go on to to grab 12 rebounds and score 20 points in a 73-66 victory over Georgia. He also dished out six assists as the Commodores (10-5, 2-2 SEC) put a damper on an otherwise rowdy day and weekend in the Classic City.
“Coach said it (Friday), ‘This isn’t a must-win game, but it’s a really, really important game for us.’ I think we took that and ran with it for this game,” Wright said. “We gave one away against South Carolina, we had a bad game with Kentucky so coming out (Saturday) we knew we had to come out and play hard – this was a must-win game for us.”
Vandy trailed 36-28 at halftime. It shot a dismal 36.7 percent and missed 15 of the 19 3-pointers it took over the first 20 minutes.
A 13-0 run to start the second half flipped the script and gave the Commodores a lead they would never relinquish. Georgia (5-11, 0-3 SEC) eventually crawled within 55-54 with 9:15 remaining only to see Vanderbilt put its foot back on the gas and pull away for good.
While Wright filled up the stat sheet, his teammates from up and down the roster chipped in as well.
Quentin Millora-Brown had 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Pippen Jr., on an otherwise quiet evening, finished with 13 points and seven assists. Myles Stute added nine points and Jamaine Mann scored six points to go along with three rebounds.
Mann’s thunderous, one-handed dunk in the second half served notice that the visitors were not leaving Stegeman Coliseum without a win on this night – their first in that building since 2014.
Good decision. pic.twitter.com/qpIqGqGCWi
— Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball (@VandyMBB) January 16, 2022
“It’s just one of those games that we needed to win,” Stackhouse said. “We knew this was a dangerous team. Their record, it hasn’t been good, but they’ve been in every game and watching all of the scouts for this game they’ve done a lot of good things, just some things haven’t gone right for them at the end of games. We were aware who they were.
“It’s one of those moments in the season where we’re early and we’re still missing some pieces, but it was one of those games where it really was an early decider of what kind of season we’re going to have. I just tried to press that upon them that this is a game we should win.”
Vanderbilt, which had 17 assists on 27 made field goals, returned to the type of form it had played with in late December and the early part of this month before two setbacks to South Carolina and No. 12 Kentucky, respectively. And it did so without guard Rodney Chatman and center Liam Robbins who are both still sidelined with injury.
Now the Commodores turn their attention to Tennessee (11-5, 2-3 SEC), the No. 22 team in the nation, coming to Memorial Gymnasium at 8 p.m. Tuesday. And they do as a optimistic bunch having swiped a crucial SEC road win ahead of a major test at home against an arch-rival.
“It’s a great game to give us some confidence with Tennessee coming back at home on Tuesday,” Stackhouse said. “Hopefully this will give us some confidence for us to come in and protect our home court.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.