NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt ran out of Memorial Magic last night in a 67-59 loss to a feisty and fearless Alabama Birmingham team in the quarterfinals of the NIT.
The Blazers ended the night on an 8-2 run after the Commodores had narrowed the margin to two points with 52 seconds left. But Jordan Walker’s lob to Trey Jemison for a thunderous, and somewhat shocking, two-handed dunk seemed to stop Vanderbilt’s comeback attempt dead in its tracks.
Vandy could muster only one more bucket the rest of the way as it watched its postseason run come to an end.
“Give them credit, man, they played a good game,” Stackhouse said. “We didn’t have the performances that we needed to win this game. But I thought our guys, as usual, played with the effort and the toughness that we expect.”
Stackhouse’s team took major strides during his fourth season as a head coach, even if it did lose in the same round of the NIT as it did exactly one year ago to the day.
The Commodores won 22 games overall and 14 games at home. They went 12-3 over their final 15, a run that included victories over multiple ranked teams, and finished at least seven games over .500 for the first time since the 2014–15 campaign.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done this year. Going into SEC, they had us ranked second from last,” Vandy senior Quentin Millora-Brown said. “We took big steps throughout each part of the season. We beat teams that we had never beat before. We finished the highest (in the SEC) we’ve ever finished (under Stackhouse).
“I thought we really came together as a team as the season went on. We were playing our best play late, we just didn’t have the performance we needed tonight.”
UAB (28-9), which finished third in Conference USA and as runner-ups in its league tournament, advances to the NIT semifinals in Las Vegas, where it will face either Cincinnati or Utah Valley. Walker had 21 in the win while Jemison added 17 and had 12 rebounds.
Eric Gaines added 14 for the Blazers, who went 17-for-17 from the line.
Vanderbilt got 15 points each from Jordan Wright and Ezra Manjon, but the recently explosive Tyrin Lawrence was held to eight points.
“This team’s resiliency, this team’s fight, this team’s effort—we never gave up,” Wright said. “We always fought until the end. You’ll see that with this team moving forward. The momentum, the magic is back, the games that we won down the stretch … incredible. I thought we were going to do it again tonight.
“When you get late into those games and the crowd is into it, you just feel like you can’t lose. It didn’t go our way tonight, but going forward I know it will.”
Both teams had an atrocious start to the evening offensively, and Vandy’s beginning may have been much worse than that. The Commodores missed 12 of their first 13 shots as they fell behind 7-2 in the first six minutes.
But Vanderbilt recovered and went on a 7-0 run, completed by Emmanuel Ansong’s putback, to grab its first lead of the game at 13-11.
Later in the half, Vandy opened up a 25-18 lead when it got consecutive triples from Paul Lewis, Trey Thomas and Wright. The Commodores wouldn’t relinquish that lead and went into the locker room up 27-24.
The Blazers shot just 8 of 31 from the floor and missed nine of the 10 triples they attempted. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, shot a shade under 29 percent, and half of its 38 field goal attempts were from long range.
“I thought we were maybe a little too juiced-up. We got great looks at the beginning of the game, they just didn’t fall for us,” Stackhouse said. “Had a lot of shots around the basket that will probably be tough to swallow once we go back and look at it.”
Energy and excitement immediately picked up in the second half with five lead changes in the first five minutes.
The Blazers looked to have seized control up 49-46 after a Walker layup and defensive stop on the other end. But a Manjon steal and bucket on the other end brought Vandy back to 49-48 with 7:30 on the clock.
Walker’s layup was part of eight straight points from the UAB senior guard. He hit two free throws, giving the Blazers a 55-52 lead, and that was followed by Jemison’s layup to give the visitors a five-point edge.
Vanderbilt found itself down seven with 2:36 to go before scoring five straight to get to 59-57. It would be as close as VU would get.
“Every season that we’ve been here, we’ve increased our win total. It’s something that we’ll look back and reflect on over the next few weeks and over the summer as we try to get even better,” Stackhouse said. “I don’t think we’re satisfied with where we are. We felt that we were an (NCAA) Tournament team this year. We didn’t quite make it.
But to get into the NIT and win a game or two and have an opportunity like we had tonight? Disappointed for our fans, disappointed for our guys. I know they had their hearts set on taking that next step, but it wasn’t in the cards for us.”
- Vanderbilt last made the NIT semifinals in 1994 when it also made the championship game. The Commodores only NIT championship came in 1990.
- Vanderbilt’s 22 wins this season was its most since winning 25 in the 2010-11 season.
- The Commodores won 14 home games, their most since winning 15 for the 2014-15 season.
- Wright needs nine points to pass Billy Joe Adcock (1,190) for 38th on Vanderbilt’s all-time scoring list.
- Millora-Brown has played in 123 career games. Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley both played a program record 134 during their respective careers.
- Vandy is now 4-2 all-time against UAB.
- Vanderbilt finished now 17-4 when leading at halftime.
- The Commodores are now 24-13 all-time in the NIT.
- Attendance on Wednesday was announced as 10,258 giving Vanderbilt an average of 8,106 fans in 20 home games this season.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.