NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt played the type of basketball Tuesday it had hoped to play all season long, much to the delight of the more than 7,700 inside Memorial Gymnasium, and much to the chagrin to the visitors from down the street.
Jordan Wright’s 24 points led a balance Vandy attack in an 82-71 victory over Belmont in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament. The win secured a winning record for the Commodores for the first time since 2016-17 and gave the program its first postseason triumph since 2015.
“For us I think this was a game we were all hyped about going into it. This is this first opportunity we’ve had to play in a postseason tournament like this,” Vanderbilt senior Quentin Millora-Brown said. “Knowing that it was at home was even more exciting for us. It got us all even more hyped because we knew we would have the student section there.
“It was exciting because it’s something we’ve been building toward for three years. Seeing it start to come to fruition is awesome.”
Wright, who poured in 27 against Kentucky on Friday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, went 10 of 15 from the field and also grabbed seven rebounds. But he wasn’t alone in his efforts.
Liam Robbins finished with 14 points (he went 5 of 6 from the line) and six rebounds, Millora-Brown grabbed 13 boards and Rodney Chatman and Scotty Pippen Jr. each added 10. Nearly half of Vanderbilt’s points (38) came from inside the paint and the Commodores shot 46.8 percent from the floor.
Defensively, Vandy held Belmont (25-8) to three fewer made field goals in the second half than the first.
“I knew we were going to give up some. (Belmont is) just too good at what they do for us not to give up a few,” Vandy head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “But I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job of keeping those guys in front of us and making them make shots.
“I thought our bigs were unbelievable tonight. Just good contributions throughout our roster tonight.”
Vandy also got an extra lift from its home crowd. A packed-to-the-brim student section yearned to beat their collegiate foes from Belmont Boulevard and rose the decibel levels with every made bucket and defensive stand.
For a venue traditionally known for its hostility, lighter crowds due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the last two years have been more the norm. But Vanderbilt’s faithful made their voices heard Tuesday and the Dores recognized that as being a big factor down the stretch.
“Having the students here is great. Honestly it just feels surreal, kinda,” Wright said. “I haven’t had that my whole time there, having the students just pack the section like that. As loud as they were they just brought us great energy, they helped us in those times – when it was 24-12 (in the first half) we came back out and they were screaming, they were riling us up.
“Just having them back is a blessing. We missed them for sure.”
Vanderbilt now has the advantage of sitting back and watching Dayton (23-10) play at Toledo (26-7) at 6 p.m. CT Wednesday. The winner of that game will move on to play the Commodores — the site, time and date for that contest are yet to be announced.
Until then Stackhouse’s crew will relish having left Memorial Gym as winners at least one more time.
“Hopefully we can just continue to be who we are,” Stackhouse said,“continue to showcase to the nation our toughness and our physicality on the defensive end and our selflessness, our poise and our discipline on the offensive end.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.