The Wright Night in Lexington

Vandy sinks No. 23 Kentucky on last-second shot

by Chad Bishop

LEXINGTON, Ky. — It may go down as the biggest shot in Jordan Wright’s career. It is undoubtedly the biggest one so far.

Wright sank a fadeaway jumper from just in front of the free-throw line with three seconds on the clock inside Rupp Arena on Wednesday, lifting the Commodores to a 68-66 victory over No. 23 Kentucky.

Vanderbilt hadn’t won at the historic college basketball mecca since Jan. 20, 2007.

“This is a game we knew that we had to win to keep our hopes alive for March Madness,” Wright said. “We let one get away at LSU, so we knew we had to come down here and get this one. I’m not going to say this was just another game because this was a huge game for us. It was a win that we needed.”

Wright had a game-high 23 points. He went 8-for-12 from the field, and his 23 points were the most scored during his senior season. In fact, Wright had only scored 25 points total since Feb. 11 and didn’t score at all on Saturday in a win over Florida.

But the 6-foot-6 guard came off the bench Wednesday determined to keep fulfilling a promise he made to fourth-year head coach Jerry Stackhouse: that the Commodores, in the 2022–23 season, would defeat every team on their schedule the two had never beaten before.

“We started this thing together. He’s my very first recruit. He’s the first guy that I signed to Vanderbilt,” Stackhouse said. “I get a little bit emotional with this one right here. This is what it’s about. This is a great moment for us, a great moment for our program. I’m glad to have this win tonight.”

Trailing for much of the second half, Kentucky tied the game at 64-all with a single free throw with 2:33 on the clock. The Wildcats (20-10, 11-6 SEC) then found themselves with a 66-64 lead with 70 seconds to play.

Wright tied the game with a layup with 42 ticks showing and then got a defensive stop on the other end 20 seconds later.

Vandy point guard Ezra Manjon brought the ball slowly up the court toward the visitors’ bench, and it appeared Stackhouse would call timeout. Instead, Manjon handed the ball to Wright, who moved back to the center of the court, drove to the right side of the lane, spun back toward the middle of the paint and dropped a teardrop of a jumpshot into the basket.

“We kind of had a fake timeout, wanted to get (Manjon) downhill, catch them off guard,” Wright said. “But they were ready for it, and I just told (Manjon), ‘Give me the ball.’ Coach trusts me in that moment, I just got to my spot and made the shot.”

Tyrin Lawrence had 21 points and seven rebounds for Vanderbilt (17-13, 10-7 SEC), and Quentin Millora-Brown had 10. Vandy eked out the victory after losing star center Liam Robbins less than five minutes into the contest with an apparent leg injury.

Robbins’ injury changed the way Wednesday’s game was supposed to look on paper.

The 7-footer center went up for a rebound on the defensive glass and, when he came down, landed awkwardly on his right foot. He had to be helped to the locker room and couldn’t put any weight on his right leg.

From there, Kentucky looked poised to run away with things—but the Wildcats couldn’t capitalize. Even when the Commodores went 4:05 without a single point and almost five minutes without a made field foal, UK could only build a 21-17 lead.

That margin grew to 28-23 with 3:23 to go in the half. Colin Smith, however, hit a confident 3 from the right corner on the following possession. And a few minutes later, Wright gave Vandy the lead back at 31-30 with an offensive putback.

Vanderbilt called timeout with 24 seconds left to go in the half, and they set up one final play. That play ended up in the hands of Millora-Brown, standing just behind the 3-point line at the top of the key, and the senior center let it fly.

His first career made 3-pointer was nothing but net and gave Vandy a 34-30 lead at the break.

“Our guys just battled,” Stackhouse said. “I’m proud of how we battled. We didn’t play our best game, but we played a tough game.”

Vandy came out sharp early in the second half, too, and built a 46-35 lead on a Lawrence layup less than five minutes into the period. Kentucky countered with a 9-0 run to get to 46-44 before Wright calmly hit a crowd-quieting 3 at the 13:04 mark.

After the Commodores stretched their lead to 54-48, Kentucky came clawing back once again and made it a 57-56 game on Antonio Reeves’ right-side 3 with 6:40 remaining. Vandy held firm and returned the margin to six when Wright hit a right-corner 3 with 4:22 to go, making it 64-58.

The next four minutes were back-and-forth and neck-and-neck until Wright made the shot that will be remembered for a long, long time.

“Just happy about tonight, coming in and having something to play for this time of the year, beating the king at his house, it’s pretty special,” Stackhouse said. “This is a big feat for us, not just to come in and beat them, but (beat them while they’re) probably playing as good of basketball as anybody.”

Oscar Tshiebwe had 21 points and 20 rebounds to lead Kentucky.

  • Vanderbilt’s win over No. 23 Kentucky gave the Commodores three wins this season against teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25. That’s the most since the 2016-17 team recorded four.
  • Wright now has 1,086 career points and is now tied with Bruce Elder for 43rd on Vanderbilt’s all-time career scoring list.
  • The Commodores are now 13-3 this season when leading at halftime and 14-6 when shooting at least 40 percent from the field.
  • The last Vanderbilt team to win at least 10 conference games was the 2016-17 squad that won 10. The 2015-16 team won 11.
  • Vanderbilt is now 48-154 all-time against Kentucky and 21-94 in road games. The Commodores had lost 14 straight in the series and 14 straight in Lexington, having last won at UK on Jan. 20, 2007, before Wednesday’s win.
  • Vandy is now 9-11 against the Wildcats in the month of March.
  • Attendance on Wednesday was announced as 20,337.

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.