OXFORD, Miss. — The ending to Vanderbilt’s regular season played out rather appropriately Saturday at The Pavilion at Ole Miss.
Another game right down to the wire, another affair with momentum swings, another night where nothing was settled until the final buzzer. The Commodores held their breath as the Rebels’ James White missed a floater that would have sent the game into overtime.
But the shot came up short, and Vandy got a 63-61 win, and quickly turned its attention to the postseason after its 15th conference game that was decided by 10 points or less.
“I think we had a lot better poise down the stretch. The last couple games we got kind of flustered, had the turnover late and didn’t make our shots late,” Vanderbilt junior Jordan Wright said. “So I think just down the stretch we used our timeouts when we got in trouble.
“We just had better awareness of the game and just understanding of the situation. We’ve been in that situation a lot. There’s really no pressure for us here, just getting used to it and getting in those big games you got to know what to do down the stretch and I think we’ve kind of turned the corner here.”
Vandy finished the regular season with 15 wins, seven conference victories and five road triumphs – all high marks since the 2016-17 campaign. A 15-15 overall record wasn’t the best the Commodores could have done through 30 games, but third-year head coach Jerry Stackhouse put the year into perspective Saturday.
When he took over in 2019 his program was coming off an 0-18 season in the SEC.
“Obviously we feel like we’re a better team than what our record shows with a lot of the close games that could have went our way that were in the balance, but at the end of the day I’m still proud of these guys,” Stackhouse said. “For the guys that started – the Jordan Wrights, the Quentin Millora-Browns, Scotty Pippen – to come in here three years ago when this team was kind of in disarray and we were really trying to find ourselves, to be 2 1/2-3 years removed from that and to finish the regular-season .500 and have the opportunity to build on that with the tournament — 15 and 15 sound a whole like better than 14 and 16. We’ll take it and keep trying to build upon that.”
Vanderbilt’s win Saturday did nothing to change their path this week at the SEC Tournament. It had already been locked in to the No. 11 seed prior to tipoff.
What the victory did do, however, is give the Commodores the chance to climb back above .500 if it can beat 14th-seeded Georgia (6-25) at 8:30 p.m. CT Wednesday at AMALIE Arena in Tampa, Florida. A win then gives Vandy a matchup with No. 6 seed Alabama at 8:30 p.m. CT Thursday.
Each victory this week also improves Vanderbilt’s chances of making the National Invitational Tournament. A championship run, of course, sends it to the NCAA Tournament.
Both scenarios are certainly on the table.
“Coach (Andy) Fox sent me a text Friday saying that we have the possibility to be the 28th (Vanderbilt) team to make a postseason appearance,” Wright said. “We knew coming into this game there was a lot at stake for us but we’ve improved every single year even though we didn’t have the results that we wanted this year. But as coach said we’re .500 and we haven’t had one of those seasons yet.
“So just wanted to get some momentum going into the SEC Tournament and try to go on a run here late and possibly get into the (national) postseason.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.