NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The win was there for the taking. Then the Commodores lost steam – and then opportunity.
Up four points to start the fourth quarter against No. 9 Mississippi State, Vanderbilt was outscored 22-2 in the fourth quarter as it let a marquis victory slip through its fingers Thursday at Memorial Gymnasium in a 68-52 loss.
“Part of our growth process we talk about for us is our consistency,” Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White said. “For 30 minutes we executed our game plan offensively and defensively really well against one of the best teams in the country. We were aggressive. We were detailed.
“We’ve got to continue to learn what it takes to compete night-in and night-out in this league. I think we took some steps forward today.”
The Dores trailed by 11 just before halftime. They then exploded for a 12-2 run to get within 31-30 going into the break.
That spurt sprouted belief.
The Bulldogs, now aware they were in for a true fight, traded buckets with Vandy before wavering at the end of the third period with turnover after turnover. Kiara Pearl’s 3 tied the game at 41, a Koi Love layup put Vanderbilt ahead 43-42, Pearl’s 3 made it 46-44 and Love’s layup at the end of the frame made it 50-46.
Vandy (12-7, 2-4 SEC) had all the momentum in the world with 10 minutes to go.
“We came out and we played hard. This was our bounce-back game,” Love said. “The last couple games we got blown out and we didn’t give our best effort. But coming out here tonight and everyone giving their best effort, going into the next couple stretches of games and toward the end of this SEC play, we need all of that. That team has to show up every night.”
Pearl’s jumper with 6:38 left in the game tied the game at 52-all. The Dores never scored again.
Vandy finished with 26 turnovers, shot 32 percent from the floor, was outscored 48-18 inside the paint and had just nine assists. Yet it still had a chance at triumph thanks, in part, to a 16 of 21 clip from the line and a 42-32 rebounding edge despite going up against a much taller MSU team (17-3, 5-1 SEC).
“Vanderbilt really played with a lot of energy tonight. A lot more than we did,” Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer said. “Disappointed in that, but you got to give Vanderbilt a lot of credit. (White) and her staff had those kids ready to play – and we weren’t ready to play.”
Thursday’s loss ended a stretch of games for Vanderbilt against No. 1 South Carolina, No. 21 Arkansas and No. 9 Mississippi State, respectively. That run ends at 2 p.m. Sunday when the Commodores travel to Alabama (11-7, 1-4).
But White’s program take can’t a breather. Despite a close call against one of the nation’s top teams, the Commodores still have work to do.
“Everybody’s tough,” Love said. “I don’t think we look at it as ranked and unranked. Everybody’s good. Anybody can lose on any night. I think we just want to try. We try to go out there and play hard and play our game.”