Competitive Commodores Go Cold in Second Half

Vandy digs too big a hole in loss at No. 5 Tennessee

by Chad Bishop

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — After an impressive first 20 minutes Tuesday in Knoxville, the Commodores went cold offensively—something they couldn’t afford to do against the No. 5 team in the nation.

The Dores missed 13 of 14 3-pointers in the second half. Tennessee held Vanderbilt to 33.3 percent overall shooting in the second half and built an insurmountable lead to win 77-68.

“I think they pressured us a lot. I think they tried to get us sped up, and they did that,” Vandy center Liam Robbins said. “They put a veteran group out there, and we allowed them to speed us up a little bit those first four minutes (of the second half). In an environment like that, four minutes can do a lot. We need to be veterans, we need to step up. I think we’ll grow from this experience and do that better moving forward.”

Vandy (8-8, 1-2 SEC) got 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks from Robbins, but they couldn’t find enough offense elsewhere to hang with the Volunteers. Jordan Wrightadded 13, and Noah Shelby added 12.

The eight other Commodores who played Tuesday went a combined 9 of 32 from the floor.

“I think we competed all night,” Vandy head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “Had some opportunities, but when you’re playing a team that, in my mind, is the best team in the SEC right now—they’re playing the best basketball, they’re defending at a super-high level, they’re making shots, they’re playing inside-out and doing all the things that great basketball teams do. I thought we competed, but in this type of environment, coming in to their place, you got to have more performances than we had tonight.”

Vanderbilt dug itself a 7-0 hole to start the night at Thompson Boling Arena, but played gritty and gutsy from there in the first half.

Robbins was the catalyst early, with nine points and three rebounds in less than eight minutes. And when he and fellow big man Quentin Millora-Brown got into foul trouble, freshmen Shelby and Lee Dort picked up the slack with fearlessness and, perhaps, some youthful ignorance.

Shelby hit three 3s and finished the first half with 12 points. One of those triples, right in front of the Tennessee bench, got Vandy within 31-26.

Dort had six points, two rebounds and a block over eight first-half minutes. His flying, put-back dunk brought the Commodores within 35-32 at the 2:07 mark.

Myles Stute drained a step-back 3 from the right wing to tie the score at 37-all, then Wright took a loose ball coast-to-coast and rolled in a layup just before the buzzer. That put the visitors up 39-37 and stunned the home crowd.

But that momentum didn’t last long as Tennessee (14-2, 4-0 SEC) came out with a 9-0 run to begin the second half and take a 46-39 lead. The Commodores missed their first five shots and turned the ball over twice in the first four minutes of the period.

And Vandy’s offense just could not get going from there. With less than eight minutes to go, it had already missed 14 of the 17 shots it had taken and 10 of the 11 3-pointers it had attempted.

“I thought we did a good job in the first half, really set a pretty good tone of giving ourselves a chance,” Stackhouse said. “The second half, (Tennessee) came out and had a lot of energy … and we took some quick shots that allowed them to get out in transition and get some separation. It was a little bit of an uphill battle from there.”

Tennessee built a 69-54 lead after Santiago Vescovi drained a 3 from the top of the key with 5:20 left. The Commodores didn’t have a comeback left in the tank.

Vescovi and Julian Phillips each scored 15 to lead the Volunteers.

Vanderbilt returns home to host No. 15 Arkansas (12-3, 1-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday, looking to avoid a third straight loss after winning its SEC opener.

“It’s on me and our staff to continue to raise the level of how we compete on a day-to-day basis,” Stackhouse said. “Not just in games, but in practices as well. That starts with our leadership, and we’ve been trying to encourage them to be better leaders within our team.”

  • Robbins now has 47 blocks this season, two shy of entering the top 10 for blocks in a single Vanderbilt season. Festus Ezeli holds the record with 87 in 2010-11.
  • Wright is now 35 points away from 1,000 for his career.
  • Shelby’s 12 points set a career high.
  • Vanderbilt is now 75-129 against Tennessee and has lost 11 in a row in the series.
  • Attendance on Tuesday was announced as 16,255.

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.