TAMPA, Fla. — Vanderbilt’s run at the SEC Tournament ended Friday, but the Commodores may not be done just quite yet.
“We’re still excited and still hopeful that it’s not our last game,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “I think we may have a possibility of the postseason, maybe with the NIT. And then the thing about our guys, they want to play. They’re excited about that possibility, so we’re going to be eager to see what happens on Sunday and see if we got a chance to continue our season.
“But super proud of what these guys have been able to battle through and accomplish this season, if it is the end. But hopefully we get a chance to dance just a little bit more.”
Stackhouse watched his team run out of steam late Friday against No. 3-seed Kentucky inside AMALIE Arena. Vandy trailed 59-58 with less than 6:45 to go only to see the Wildcats jump ahead by nine with a 10-2 run in 2 1/2 minutes.
The Commodores were able to draw within four twice in the last 54 seconds, but just didn’t have enough left to get over the hump in their third game in as many days.
Vandy now sits at 17-16 and will certainly be in consideration to participate in this year’s National Invitational Tournament which starts Tuesday. Six wins over teams considered Quadrant 1 and/or Quadrant 2 and a NET ranking of 66 makes the Commodores an appealing squad to include in the field of 32 teams that don’t make the NCAA Tournament.
“I know my team well. I knew what we were capable of when they’re healthy,” Stackhouse said. “I would love the opportunity for us to continue to showcase it a little bit.”
On Friday, Vanderbilt delivered punch after counterpunch against Kentucky to give itself a chance to reach the semifinals.
An 11-3 run to start the affair put Vandy ahead 11-7. An 11-5 spurt had it down 24-22 late in the first half. A 13-0 burst to start the second half gave the Commodores their largest lead of the night at 46-39 with 16:36 to play.
And when it trailed by seven with 10:31 to go and then nine with 4:32 left, Vanderbilt refused to go easily into the night, fighting until the final buzzer.
Jordan Wright scored 27 points – one shy of his career-high — and missed just two of the 12 shots he took. Myles Stute added 11 and finished 12 of 23 from long range in three tournament games. Vandy’s leading scorer Scotty Pippen Jr. was held to 10 points and went 2 of 17 from the field, a line he attributed to Kentucky’s stingy defense coupled with a bit of fatigue on his part.
“They had a good scheme on me, but we played three games in three days. I think that had some affect as well. Just tired legs,” Pippen said. “I got a lot of open looks that I usually knock down every game, but I just couldn’t even hit the rim today. It is just a weird feeling.”
While Vanderbilt waits for its NIT fate (selections will be made Sunday after the NCAA Tournament field is finalized), it can take some solace in knowing that the 2021-22 season has already been a success in many regards.
The Commodores will not have a losing season for the first time 2016-17. Their seven league wins and two SEC Tournament victories were both new benchmarks in the Stackhouse Era, as were the five road wins the team collected over the last 4+ months.
So even though this year’s team may not have played its last game just quite yet, the excitement around what next year and beyond brings has already begun to build.
“We have gotten better every year and we’re going to try to continue to do that,” Stackhouse said. “A lot of great energy, what we’re doing, our facilities. We just got a new locker room for our guys. Things that may seem kind of minute, but they’re big things for our program. And we got a new operations facility that we’re going to break ground on this year. Just a lot of great momentum for Vanderbilt basketball and I’m excited to be at the helm of it and excited to lead us into the future.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.