Commodores Still 'Learning How to Win'

Vandy opens SEC play this week

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt had 36 seconds Saturday to figure out a way to hold on to a 77-71 lead. Visiting Southern Methodist had other ideas.

The Mustangs (11-3) got a 3 from Tyson Jolly eight seconds later, then a steal in the backcourt and a 3 from Isiaha Mike that tied the game with 19 seconds to go.

Vandy then had one final possession in regulation, but coming out of a timeout freshman Scotty Pippen couldn’t get a good look at the basket and his potential game-winner clanged off the rim no good. In overtime SMU outscored the Dores 15-4.

It all transpired into a 92-81 win for the visitors at Memorial Gymnasium

“Everything that could possibly go wrong at the end of that game went wrong for us,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “But that’s a game. Hopefully we’ll have some games where those type of things will flip in our favor.”

Stackhouse’s team had a 72-57 lead with 6:28 to play. Sophomore sensation Aaron Nesmith hit his eighth 3 – and Vanderbilt’s 15th triple of the game – at that point to seemingly put the contest out of reach.

But SMU kept coming.

The Dores scored five points the rest of the way on three free throws and an Ejike Obinna dunk. The Mustangs, meanwhile put together 20 points to force overtime.

“We played well enough to win the game. We’re continuing to learn how to win the game. I think it’s learning how to win at this level,” Stackhouse said. “We’re playing some young guys that haven’t really had experience at playing at this level and what it takes to finish off games. It feels like we get a little happy at moments and we have to understand that these guys are going to continue to come at you.

“The teams that we’re about to start playing, they’re going to continue to play so we got to find a way to take a challenge a little bit more.”

Nesmith finished with 29 points to up his season average to 23.4 points per game. Fifteen of his points came in a first half that saw the Commodores rally from down 31-21 to tie the game at 40-all going into the break.

But there were underlying danger signs – like SMU holding a 19-12 rebounding advantage and having 14 more points in the paint. The Mustangs finished the night scoring 44 points from inside and grabbed 12 more boards than Vanderbilt.

“I thought our guys fought, I thought they competed and they gave themselves a chance to win. I thought this game would come down to rebounding – and it did,” Stackhouse said. “It’s hard to win games when you lose on the boards like that. That’s something that I basically told the guys – the team that won the rebounding was going to win the game and that’s what happened.

“It’s tough because they were feeling good at halftime. They had a good rhythm, they had good confidence. For us not to walk away with a win will sting. We’re about to start SEC play. It’s just about a feeling of going in at 9-4 instead of 8-5, but it is what it is.”

Vanderbilt’s next challenge will come inside league play. It travels next week to Auburn to play at 8 p.m. Wednesday – the Tigers (13-0, 1-0 SEC) have won 10 straight at home and are coming off to a trip to the Final Four in 2019.

After another close defeat – the Commodores have now lost their five games this season by an average margin of 6.8 points – it will be key for Vandy to figure out how to close things out should it find itself in position to steal a road victory and to start conference play off strong.

Said Stackhouse on how Saturday’s defeat will translate down the road, “I feel confident that we’ll be better because of it.”