Free Throws Plus Free Basketball Equals First SEC Win

Commodores sink 13 freebies in overtime to sink South Carolina

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt made just two field goals in overtime Tuesday. But it made its free throws when it counted most.

The Commodores sank 13 freebies during the extra five-minute period at Memorial Gymnasium to tough out an 84-79 victory over visiting South Carolina in the teams’ SEC opener.

“I love this team. We’re very resilient,” Vandy senior Liam Robbins said. “Obviously we’re extremely well-coached, and we watch tons of film and do tons of preparation. It was fluky play, but we know that we’re the better team and we’re going to execute down the stretch. We’re going to have short-term memory, we came back, executed.

“Our team plays hard, and I just love playing with them.”

Vanderbilt senior point guard Ezra Manjon finished with a team-high 24 points and was 8 of 9 from the line. Robbins added 22 to go along with seven rebounds and six blocks—Robbins went 10 of 15 from the line.

That duo combined to score the final 11 points of the game for the Commodores, willing them to a 1-0 start in league play.

“It was exciting to play my first SEC game,” said Manjon, a California Davis transfer. “But it was kind of the same, just being with my brothers and playing and executing. It doesn’t really matter who is in front of us, we’re just going to compete.

“I felt like I had it going, (Robbins) had it going. I wanted to get it inside and control the paint, so (Robbins) kind of opened everything up for me just killing down low.”

Vandy (8-6, 1-0 SEC) didn’t trail in overtime but did find itself in a 71-71 game before Jordan Wright knocked down a jumper inside the paint with 3:12 to go—one of just two made buckets by the Dores in overtime. Manjon made the other, a jump shot with 1:38 on the clock that made it 77-72, a lead that would prove insurmountable for the visitors.

Wright finished with 13 points in the victory, while Tyrin Lawrence ended up with 10.

“I thought our guys really competed down the stretch,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “(Robbins) really controlled the paint for us, got to the foul line, finished around the basket. And (Manjon), his floor game was great tonight—waiting, being patient, getting to his spots and getting downhill and making plays for his teammates. Great win.”

In a tie game with less than 3 1/2 minutes to go in regulation, Robbins’ tip-in off a missed layup put the Commodores ahead 63-61. About a minute later, in a 63-63 ballgame, Wright buried a 3 from the left corner, putting the home team ahead 66-63.

Vandy then had a 67-63 edge with 63 seconds to play before giving up a layup to Meechie Johnson with 50 seconds to go and a Hayden Brown layup at the buzzer after a mad scramble.

That sent the game to overtime.

“Just felt like we should have had that one, but just had to have a quick memory and get ready for overtime and to compete,” Manjon said.

The start of SEC did not begin smoothly for the home team Tuesday.

Vanderbilt missed nine of its first 12 shots, including a put-back dunk attempt by Robbins, and fell behind 13-5 at one point. South Carolina started 5 of 6 and 6 of 8 from the floor before cooling off a bit.

Manjon came off the bench to help spark some Commodores’ offense, getting Vandy within three at 17-14. A Noah Shelby 3 on the right wing tied the game at 20 before a pair of Wright free throws gave Vanderbilt its first lead of the night.

South Carolina (7-7, 0-1 SEC) went more than 4 1/2 minutes without scoring toward the end of the half, but Vandy couldn’t take advanatge, stretching its lead only as large as three points. Robbins’ two-handed dunk off a lob from Wright put the Dores ahead 34-32 going into the break.

The Gamecocks were down just a pair despite shooting 36.1 percent from the floor and getting out-rebounded 22-18.

Vandy quickly fell behind in the early goings-on of the second half, when South Carolina went on a 12-2 run and took a 44-39 lead. The Commodores missed eight of their first 10 looks to start the period.

Vanderbilt just could not retake the lead for the next 10 minutes but did claw back to 60-59 at the 5:40 mark. Manjon’s runner at the 4:04 mark knotted the score at 61-all and set up the final and decisive minutes.

South Carolina got 24 points from Chico Carter. The Gamecocks finished 9-for-29 from 3.

“South Carolina gave us everything we could take tonight,” Stackhouse said. “They made big shots throughout the game. They’re one of the best rebounding teams in the country, so for us to beat them on the boards offensively and overall was a great night for us.”

  • Manjon’s 24 points was three shy of his career-high of 27 set Dec. 14, 2021, while playing for California Davis against Oregon State.
  • Robbins now has 43 blocks this season.
  • Wright is now 62 points away from 1,000 for his career.
  • The Commodores are now 2-2 in SEC openers under Stackhouse and 3-3 against South Carolina under the fourth-year head coach.
  • Vanderbilt is now 33-31 all-time against South Carolina.
  • Attendance on Tuesday was announced as 6,344.

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.