NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The free-throw line was hardly free for the Commodores on Saturday night.
In fact, it was downright costly.
“Tonight, it was the difference in the game,” Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew said.
Vanderbilt’s SEC opener against Ole Miss was a tight contest from beginning to end, and the box score indicated as much. But one statistic was glaring in the visiting Rebels’ favor: free throws. The Commodores shot a paltry 17-29 from the charity stripe, including just 12 of 19 in the second half. Ole Miss, meanwhile, hit 19 of their 22 foul shots on the night.
In the end, Vanderbilt found itself on the losing end of an 81-71 Ole Miss victory and, as a result, an 0-1 start in SEC play. Now, with a two-game road swing on tap, the Commodores must find a way to forget Saturday and reverse their early conference fortunes.
“We’ve just got to get back to the drawing board, figure out where we went wrong and take it from there,” freshman Simisola Shittu said.
Vanderbilt had plenty of chances to take control of a back-and-forth game that saw 10 ties and 13 lead changes. After trailing 35-32 at half, the Dores stormed back to take a six-point lead, 53-47, with 14:23 to play. But Vanderbilt, which was 5-10 on free throws in the first half, missed four of their next five freebies after they had built that six-point lead. Meanwhile, Ole Miss fought back to lead by as many as nine points down the stretch.
The Commodores recovered to connect on five of their final six free-throw attempts late, but they failed to hit a single field goal for the last 3:46 of the contest. In all, the damage had already been done for Vanderbilt.
“By the time we started making shots at the end, we were down a little bit too much,” Drew said.
A disheveled outing from the charity stripe compounded a difficult night on defense for Vanderbilt. Ole Miss shot 49 percent from the floor, including 58 percent in the second half. The Commodores had little answer for Ole Miss junior Breein Tyree, who poured in a game-high 31 points on 11-of-16 shooting. Three other Rebels scored in double-figures.
Afterward, Drew chalked up his team’s free-throw performance to a new-look team adjusting to its first SEC game.
“Obviously, we’ll continue to work at it,” Drew said. “But I’ll credit some of that to excitement and wanting to win so bad in the first league opener for some of these guys.”
The Commodores won’t return to the friendly confines of Memorial Gym until Jan. 16, when they take on South Carolina. Next week, they hit the road for consecutive games against Georgia (Jan. 9) and Kentucky (Jan. 12). From free throws to team defense, Vanderbilt knows it must move on quickly from Saturday’s disappointment against Ole Miss.
“I basically just told the team that if we get two road wins, then we’re going to forget about this one,” senior Joe Toye said. “We got to have a short memory on this one.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.