Commodores March On

Group effort helps Dores down the Flyers

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt didn’t come into the National Invitational Tournament to just hang out for a bit.

“We want it bad. We all came in together expecting to win this whole NIT,” Vandy junior Scotty Pippen Jr. said. “I think at the end of the day that’s all in our minds, to make it to New York and just have fun doing it. It’s a great group of guys. We’re all dedicated to winning. One more game and we know we’re there so we’re excited about that.”

Pippen willed the Commodores to a second-round victory over visiting Dayton, 80-78 in overtime, on Sunday at Memorial Gymnasium. He scored 32 points – his eighth career game of 30 points or more – and dished out seven assists while keeping Vandy’s postseason hopes alive.

The All-American’s teammates, meanwhile, didn’t provide much assistance in scoring. But they made up for it in tenacity and togetherness.

Four players collected at least six rebounds and the Dores, as a team, went 14 of 20 from the line while forcing 13 Dayton turnovers.

And perhaps no players embodied Vandy’s victory more than Quentin Millora-Brown and Liam Robbins.

Millora-Brown had six points, six rebounds and two blocks before fouling out – he left the floor to a rousing, standing ovation. Robbins played just 21 minutes, but came off the bench in the final minutes and made the game-winning shot with 33 seconds to play and the game-winning block as time was expiring.

It all equated to Vanderbilt’s 19th win of the season and its 11th win at Memorial Gymnasium.

“That was one helluva game,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “Credit to (Dayton) coach (Anthony) Grant and his team. Those young guys really pushed us to the limit. It took everything that we had to win this game. Big efforts from (Pippen), big efforts from (Millora-Brown), but a number of contributions down the stretch. Jordan (Wright) with a big shot there and the defense that Rodney (Chatman) played down the stretch was unbelievable. 

“(Robbins) came in, had a big basket, winning basket and the blocked shot to save the game. So it was a great game, fun game to be a part of.”

The Commodores (19-16), who have won 5 of 6, now head to Xavier for the quarterfinals Tuesday. They do so as a confident bunch and as the team that may be remembered for turning the program’s fortunes in the right direction moving forward — regardless of what happens in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Vanderbilt’s 19 wins is the most since 2016-17. Vandy last won 20 games in 2014-15 when it recorded 21.

“It’s March, so each win is key,” Chatman said. “It’s win or go home so it just feels good to be alive for another game. Every win in March is a confidence booster so we’re just going to carry it into the next game and hopefully come out with a ‘W.’ ”

Xavier (20-13) has wins over Cleveland State and Florida, respectively, in the NIT. The Musketeers finished eighth in the Big East standings and lost to Butler in overtime in the first round of the Big East Tournament.

Vanderbilt has played Xavier six times its history and is just 1-5 in those contests. The seventh meeting holds a little bit more weight with a trip to New York City on the line.

“We’re still excited to play. People are like, ‘Is it kind of a letdown about the NIT as opposed to NCAA?’ Yeah, we feel like we’re an NCAA team. We’re playing like it right now,” Stackhouse said. “But for us and where we’ve been over the last couple of years — trying to build and create a foundation — we’re excited to play.”

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.