In a game that featured double-digit leads by both teams, Vanderbilt withstood a late rally from Iowa State to win 84-78. Here are five reasons for Vanderbilt’s win from Saturday’s game.
Nolan Cressler’s emergence
Though not fully recovered from the back injury that has hindered him since the offseason, Nolan Cressler is finally starting to look like the player many Vanderbilt fans believed they were getting when he decided to transfer from Cornell three years ago. Against ISU, Cressler was superb, shooting eight of 10 from the field and four for four from three, ending the game with 20 points, his most as a Commodore. After the game, ISU coach Steve Prohm admitted that stopping Cressler was not explicitly emphasized in the Cyclones’ defensive game plan and, though this is understandable, his play of late may change that.
Over the last 10 games, Cressler has scored in double digits seven times while shooting an efficient 59 percent from the floor and 42 percent from three. If Cressler is able to maintain his play, a second-half run for the Commodores may not be out of question.
Against ISU, Vanderbilt attempted a whopping 30 threes, which represented nearly 60 percent of their overall field-goal attempts in the game. This is not completely out of character nor necessarily bad. Vanderbilt is second in the SEC in three-point shooting percentage (behind only Arkansas) and first in three-point attempts, and Saturday was the third straight game in which more than half of Vandy’s shot attempts came from behind the arc.
The Commodores are, in fact, one of the most lethal spot-up shooting teams in the country, with the vast majority of those attempts coming off of the three-point shot. All of that said, the curmudgeon in me still wonders whether they should get the ball inside more and try to take advantage Luke Kornet’s mismatches, especially when the offense seems content on settling for contested 24-footers when things go south. But for now, they are taking and making their threes and that curmudgeon should shut up and enjoy it.
Where’s the bench?
Saturday, Vandy’s bench only played a total of 33 minutes, contributing a mere six points. As coach Bryce Drew mentioned after the game, this was in part because the starters were hot in the second half. However, given that Vandy already has 11 losses and needs to go on an incredible run to even be considered for NCAA tournament play, it will be interesting to see how Coach Drew handles the season going forward.
Does he want to get Djery Baptiste, who is still very raw, and Payton Willis, who is still adjusting to the college game, the pivotal experience they need to contribute in future years? Or will we see the starters playing north of 30 minutes per game? Time will tell, but much of the success for the remainder of the year will hinge on these questions.
Defensively this year, the Commodores have been below average. This is not for lack of effort, but, personnel-wise, they cannot match up with certain teams athletically. Thus, to compensate, they need to play very smart defense. This means being in proper position, picking spots to gamble and not fouling, among other principles.
On Saturday, against an elite offensive team, Vandy did about as well as could be expected. It did not commit dumb fouls; ISU only had 12 free-throw attempts for the game and had none in the first half. It also did a very good job getting back to limit transition opportunities. There is still a lot to be desired; ISU shot 49 percent from the field for the game, and missed some wide open looks. But by and large, this was a nice effort from the ‘Dores.
A flare for the dramatic
Last season the Commodores were infected with the inability to close out games, regardless of the size of their lead. This season, the team has not blown many leads per se (they have not had as many leads to blow), but it still seems to struggle to get to the finish line.
Against Florida, a late Vandy turnover gave the Gators an opportunity to win the game. On Wednesday vs. Arkansas, Vandy was up four with 30 seconds left and possession but snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with turnovers and terrible rebounding. Saturday, an ominous aura of déjà vu filled Memorial Gym as Vandy nearly blew a double-digit lead and struggled in the final minutes to advance the ball against a press. To be fair, the Commodores were better, and getting the ball to Luke for easy dunks was a good idea. However, they turned the ball over multiple times in the final minute and let ISU back into a game it had no business being in. After the game, Drew said that he was proud of some of the changes they made and their improved execution, but Saturday showed us they still have a lot of work to do.