Lawrence Leading the Charge

Junior guard key to Dores' late-season run

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Would Vanderbilt be where it is today without the play of Tyrin Lawrence? Likely not.

Vandy’s junior guard has had a remarkable breakout season and been one of the Commodores’ most valuable players since the start of February. Now he leads Vanderbilt (21-14) into the second round of the NIT at 11 a.m. Saturday against Michigan at Memorial Gymnasium.

“I would say the biggest thing is probably confidence,” Lawrence said about his recent stretch of play. “Just believing I can actually go out and have the performances I’ve been having. As long as I just stay aggressive and stay confident I think I’ll continue to play good.”

Lawrence was held out of a Jan. 31 game at Alabama, what turned out to be an infamous 57-point loss. That day served as a bit of wake-up call to the Georgian that more was expected of him both on and off the court.

In the 13 games since, Lawrence has reached a new level of production that was seemingly always brimming under the surface of his past play.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound guard is averaging 16.4 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game and shooting 57.2 percent from the field during that stretch. His 25 points Tuesday against Yale set a career high.

“(Vanderbilt assistant coach) Michael Curry always tells me just don’t ease into it,” Lawrence said. “Come out aggressive right away and I think that helps me and the team as well.”

Lawrence had just 150 points coming into 2022-23. He had only reached double figures twice in his career coming into the campaign and had a total of 10 3-pointers.

Through 34 games this season, Lawrence has finished with at least 10 points 23 times, is shooting 37 percent from distance (34-for-93) and is averaging 12.9 points per contest. He has also made 100 free throws after making just 26 in his first two seasons combined.

Lawrence played just seven games as a freshman before a season-ending knee injury.

“Early on I was just questioning whether I could ever get back to what I used to be,” Lawrence said of his road back. “Guys like Scotty (Pippen) and Rodney Chatman, they helped me along the way just giving me advice and telling me to keep going.

“The coaching staff, they all believe me and have shown they trust me. With trust I feel like that goes a long way with a player, just having the freedom to play through your mistakes. I think that’s been big.”

Vandy will need Lawrence to be at his best again Saturday against a tough Michigan squad.

The Wolverines (18-15) went 11-9 in the Big Ten Conference and finished with an NCAA NET ranking of 61. They failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.

Michigan lost the final two games of its regular season and then was ousted from the Big Ten Conference tournament by Rutgers. A 90-80 victory over Toledo opened the Wolverines’ NIT run.

Junior center Hunter Dickinson (18.4 ppg, 9 rug) will be a load for Vandy to handle as will guards Jett Howard (14.2 ppg) and Kobe Bufkin (14 ppg).

Michigan is coached by former NBA star Juwan Howard, a former professional teammate of Vandy head coach Jerry Stackhouse.

“For us it’s just continuing to improve on what we’ve been doing,” Stackhouse said of the matchup. “It’s just another obstacle in our way of accomplishing what we want to accomplish for this season. We were hoping to be in the tournament, but we’re still in a tournament, a tournament where we have some unfinished business with from last year

“We have a great opportunity to try to close it the right way this year and hopefully continue to build to try to get to the Big Dance.”

The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to host the quarterfinals Tuesday or Wednesday against either UAB (26-9) or Morehead State (22-11).

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.