Needing 'A Little Bit More'

Commodores enter final week of regular season

by Chad Bishop

STARKVILLE, Miss. — For the seventh time this season, Vanderbilt lost a league game by less than 10 points. The average margin of defeat in those seven defeats? Six points.

That may be the most frustrating part of the Vandy campaign to this point. The Commodores (14-14, 6-10 SEC) have been right there at the end of so many games only to come up a bucket or two short.

Such was the case Saturday in a 74-69 loss at Mississippi State.

“We all know that it’s going to come. We’re going to find that way to be locked-in for 40 minutes and be able to get defensive stops, get tough stops, make tough plays on offense,” Vanderbilt senior Quentin Millora-Brown said. “I think we all feel that it’s coming and I feel like as we go forward into the tournament I feel like we all have a good feeling that we’re right there. We just got to find just a little bit more another 2-3 minutes throughout the game. That’s the way all of us feel.

“We’re in most of our games. We just got to find a little bit more.”

Vanderbilt certainly needed just a bit more Saturday when it found itself down just two points time and time again in the waning minutes. It had fought back from down 11 with just 8:41 left on the second half clock to give itself a chance.

The Commodores even had two good looks at 3-pointers trailing 65-63 with 2:17 to go. Both shots rimmed out and head coach Jerry Stackhouse’s team couldn’t get enough stops or make enough offensive plays down the stretch to pull out the triumph.

“We just got to continue to fight,” Stackhouse said. “We got two more games left in the regular season, still have the tournament ahead of us. Obviously not the results we wanted over these last couple games even though we fought hard. At the end of the day you need those marks in the left hand column and we haven’t gotten those.

“It’s still about coming in and competing and trying to prepare, but we had opportunities to step up and make plays. But we didn’t in both of those games. I think that’s really the end of it.”

If the regular season ended this weekend, Vandy would begin play the SEC Tournament in Tampa, Florida, as the No. 11 seed and would have to begin its postseason a day earlier than most. The Dores now go into the final week one game back of 10th-place Texas A&M (18-11, 7-9 SEC).

Thus, wins become even more coveted down the stretch. Vanderbilt hosts Florida (18-11, 8-8 SEC) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday before traveling to Mississippi (13-16, 4-12 SEC) at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Millora-Brown, who had 10 points and six rebounds Saturday, said the team knew that once center Liam Robbins finally made his debut in the lineup a few weeks ago that it would take some time for the team to click all as one. Now the challenge becomes turning that switch on perhaps a lot quicker than expected.

“We all feel that it’s getting there. We played really well for stretches and then we’d lose it for a little bit. Then we’d bring it back,” Millora-Brown said. “I think that’s a little bit of fatigue on our part. Usually we start the game very well and then we hit about 8-10 minutes in and start to get rushed. We don’t slow down the pace on offense when we know we’re tired. A quick shot leads to their transition. Then they get a few buckets and we’re feeling a little bit rushed and it kind of perpetuates itself. 

“We just got to find a way to stop ourselves and slow it down as we get into those situations, recognize it, call a play that’s going to take the whole 30 seconds if we have to just to get a really good bucket and get our flow back.”

Even though Vanderbilt got 32 points from Scotty Pippen Jr. on Saturday and the Commodores dished out 19 assists on 24 made baskets, they also turned the ball over 18 times and surrendered 32 points in the paint. The latter number was extra disheartening considering Vandy knew that was the strength of the Bulldogs coming in – yet it could do little to slow down center Tolu Smith (22 points, eight rebounds).

Stackhouse said he spoke to the team before the game about a sense of urgency when it came to defending the paint. But Robbins – who eventually fouled out – was tagged with a couple early fouls and Millora-Brown and his post mates had their hands full trying to protect the basket inside.

Still, after all that, Vandy still had a chance to pick up a pivotal road win. It just needed a little bit more then – and will need a little bit more now moving forward.

“There were a lot of things that we could have done defensively just a little bit more,” Millora-Brown said, “a little more effort, a little bit more harder that would have helped us a little bit more to help us get a few more stops.”

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.