NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was a night Vanderbilt refused to be beaten. Not in its home finale, not for the three seniors it honored pregame, not with its slim NCAA Tournament at-large hopes hanging in the balance.
Four Commodores scored in double figures and Vandy never trailed in a 77-72 win inside Memorial Gymnasium on Saturday. Vandy has won eight of nine games going into postseason play and ended the regular season on a five-game home winning streak.
“I just think it’s the collective effort from everybody and I just think it’s the guys that we have on this team,” Vandy point guard Ezra Manjon said. “We got people that want to fight, we got people that were underdogs in high school or whatever.
“I think we have a tough, gritty team and we love each other. We really do. And the coaches love us and we love the coaches. It’s just a team. It’s a real team and I think that comes down to a lot of things and we get it done because of that.”
Vanderbilt fought comeback after comeback from Mississippi State and saw a 15-point lead dwindle down to 74-72 with eight seconds to play. But the Dores (18-13, 11-7 SEC) stood tall in the final ticks to preserve the win.
Head coach Jerry Stackhouse’s team was predicted in the preseason to finish 12th out of 14 teams and, instead, wound up six. No Vandy team since the 2015-16 unit had won as many league games (11) or home games (12) than this season’s group.
“I think our longview of what we envisioned for our program, what we envisioned for this season is starting to pay off and come to fruition for us,” Stackhouse said. “And it’s coming at the right time.”
Jordan Wright led the way for Vanderbilt on Saturday as the senior scored 19 points in his team’s seventh win in the past eight games. Manjon had 15 points and seven assists, while Tyrin Lawrence add 16 and Myles Stute scored 12.
Vandy also made 12 3-pointers and survived despite allowing Mississippi State to collect 45 rebounds.
“Great night for our seniors,” Stackhouse said. “I thought they all performed well. Would loved to have (injured center) Liam (Robbins) be a part of it, but they all rallied together and got this win for him. I know he’s excited.
“But there was just great energy in that building tonight. I thought our fans showed up and showed out and they definitely helped propel us across the finish line tonight.”
Vanderbilt came out hot Saturday and raced out to a 10-3 lead thanks to four early points from Emmanuel Ansong, including a put-back dunk, and by forcing four MSU turnovers. Paul Lewis, one of three freshmen to come off the Vandy bench later in the half, made it 18-10 with a right-corner 3-pointer.
Mississippi State began to work its way back into the game drawing with four four different times. Lawrence restored order with a left-corner 3 at the 4:43 mark making it 27-20.
A long 3 from Wright with a little less than three minutes to go in the half put the Commodores up 32-22. The senior drained another one 90 seconds later making it a 35-25 ballgame.
Vanderbilt led by as many as 12 in the waning seconds before settling for a 37-27 margin at the break.
The Dores forced 11 Mississippi State turnovers, got seven 3s from from four different players and shot 50 percent overall.
Vanderbilt rapidly upped the lead to 42-27 early in the second half only to see Mississippi State go on a 9-0 run, thanks mostly to Tolu Smith who scored all nine of the Bulldogs’ points during the stretch. The Bulldogs found themselves down 49-45 on a Shakeel Moore 3 and then down 49-47 on Shawn Jones’ alley-oop dunk with 11:41 to go.
Vandy was clinging to a 58-53 lead when Stute connected on a long 3 with 7:41 on the clock. The junior turned and blew a kiss to the packed-out student section, a signal that also kissed Mississippi State’s comeback bid farewell.
Smith had 27 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs (20-11, 8-10 SEC).
Before Saturday’s season finale even tipped off, the Commodores had secured the No. 6 seed for next week’s SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena by virtue of other results throughout the league. Vandy will face the winner of LSU-Georgia at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
Should the Dores win Thursday they’ll face Kentucky on Friday.
“We’re looking forward to this week,” Stackhouse said. “We’ll take (Sunday) off and kind of regroup, lock in to both (Georgia and LSU) because we won’t know who we’ll play, but we’ll be ready to game plan for them and keep rolling.”
- Wright now has 1,105 career points and is now 43rd on Vanderbilt’s all-time scoring list. Luke Kornet (1,135) is 42nd.
- The Commodores are now 14-3 this season when leading at halftime, 12-2 when scoring at least 75 points and 15-6 when shooting at least 40 percent from the field.
- The last Vanderbilt team to win at least 11 conference games was the 2015-16 squad that also won 11. The 2009-10 team was the last to win at least 12.
- Vandy’s 12 home wins is its most since the 2015-16 team won 14.
- Vanderbilt is now 81-53 all-time against Mississippi State and 49-11 in home games against the Bulldogs.
- Attendance on Saturday was announced as 10,544 Giving Vanderbilt an average of 8,131 fans in 17 home games this season.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.