NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt nearly watched victory slip from its grasp Wednesday inside Memorial Gymnasium. But the Commodores made the play it needed to make offensively, got to heroic free throws from Tyrin Lawrence and ended the battle with a defensive stop to down visiting Pittsburgh 75-74.
“Let’s go home,” Lawrence said of his thoughts as he approached the free throw line for a pair of game-winning shots. “I’ve been in that position a few times—at Temple, at Arkansas and I missed one. So I just wanted to go home with a win, man.”
A Trey Thomas 3 had put Vanderbilt up 73-66 with just 1:52 on the clock. But Pittsburgh scored six straight in the next 45 seconds and had the ball down one with 31 seconds to play.
Out of a timeout, guard Nelly Cummings found space on the right wing and drained a pull-up jumper with 15 seconds to go. Vandy head coach Jerry Stackhouse called timeout with 9.7 ticks on the clock to set up the final play.
Point guard Ezra Manjon was able to weave his way through the left side of the Panthers’ defense and dish the ball under the basket to Lawrence who was fouled going up for a shot. Lawrence calmly sank both free throws to make it 75-74.
Then Lawrence and Liam Robbins helped breakout Pittsburgh’s desperation inbounds pass as the clock hit zero.
“We were looking for a face cut and they guarded that pretty well” Lawrence said. “Ezra kept his dribble and was able to get to the basket and I just happened to find myself in the right position for a drop-off.”
Robbins finished with 14 points and was one rebound shy of a double-double. Myles Stute also had 14 points to go along with six boards while Jordan Wright had 12 points, six assists and five rebounds and the senior is now 98 points away from 1,000 for his career.
The victory was the second in a row for the Commodores (5-4) who now host Grambling (5-3) at 6 p.m. Friday.
“Every game is tough,” Stackhouse said. “This should be a confidence-builder for us. The way that we stepped up and knocked down some key free throws—we were down. We were down with less than 10 seconds to execute and thought we did a pretty good job of executing.”
Vanderbilt found itself trailing 56-55 with 7:09 to go as it suffered through a field goal drought of nearly six minutes. But Emmanuel Ansong, Thomas and Lawrence, respectively, drained consecutive 3s to put the home team ahead 64-56 with 5:32 left.
Vandy led the rest of the way until Cummings’ jumper which looked like it would give Pittsburgh its sixth straight win.
“They shot the ball really, really well,” Stute said. “We were talking in the locker room and coach said we probably won’t see another team that will shoot better than them. Maybe shoot as good as them, but not better than them for the rest of the season.
“So hat’s off to them, they hit a lot of timely shots, had a lot of really, really tough shots that they hit. That made it tough to guard.”
Wednesday’s first half featured four lead changes and a pair of ties. Pittsburgh led by as many as five points with 3:35 left in the half—but the Panthers (6-4) wouldn’t score again.
Quentin Millora-Brown’s layup with 41 seconds on the clock tied the game at 34-all going into the break. Vandy shot just 37.5 percent and gave up seven 3s, but scored 11 points off 11 Pittsburgh turnovers and got 18 of its points from inside the paint.
Vanderbilt led by as many as eight in the second and Lawrence’s final free throws marked the 11th lead change of the contest.
Vanderbilt honored its 1987-88 team Wednesday at halftime.
After finishing in a tie for fourth place in the SEC standings, that squad beat Utah State and Pittsburgh, respectively, in the NCAA Tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska, to advance to the Round of 16 in Pontiac, Michigan, where they fell 77-64 to eventual national champion Kansas.
Will Perdue, named SEC Player of the Year, led the Commodores in scoring at 18.3 points per game that season while Barry Goheen scored 12.4 per contest and Barry Booker chipped in 10.9 per contest. Perdue also averaged 10.1 rebounds per game.
The ’87-88 team, coached by C.M. Newton, started the season 7-1 with its only loss at Indiana 63-61. It also beat North Carolina and won a game at Notre Dame.
Perdue, Goheen, Booker, Scott Draud, Steve Grant, Eric Reid, James Amsler, Mike Collett and Derrick Wilcox were all present for Wednesday’s game.
“Last couple days we spent some time with our 1988 team that went to the Sweet 16,” Stackhouse said. “Those guys were in town, we honored them tonight, and they had a chance to spend some time with our guys (Tuesday) and I just think it was a great way to cap off the evening.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.