On a special night for Vanderbilt’s trio of seniors, the Commodores came up short, falling to the Missouri Tigers by a score of 74-66.
Even in a losing performance, the impact of Riley LaChance and Jeff Roberson was palpable. Vanderbilt’s seniors combined for 36 points, including a 8-17 night from three. The pair of LaChance and Roberson that has started so many games together, that has lived together for four years, that has been the lifeblood of a Vanderbilt program in an otherwise disappointing year, will never play on the court at Memorial Gym together again.
In a season that is so easy to write off and look toward next year, the two of them kept the focus on now. Unfazed by the allure of top recruits coming to the program, LaChance and Roberson wanted to win now, and even if that didn’t happen every night, they worked for it every night. Both before and after the game, the Memorial crowd let them know it.
When Maxwell Evans checked in for LaChance with 20 seconds to play, everyone was on their feet.
“I didn’t really think I was going to get emotional, but when I checked out, four years kind of flashes right in front of you,” said LaChance. “I think when the fans stood up and cheered for us, it was just a nice feeling. Our record’s not what we want it to be, it’s not what the fans want it to be, but they’ve really supported us. It really meant a lot to us.”
When Roberson came out seconds later, the place was as loud as it had been all night. Roberson was proud of how far he has come under Bryce Drew.
“They came in and picked us up in a time where things looked pretty bad. Not only that, but they helped us off the court, especially as young men,” said Roberson of Drew and his staff.
Prior to the game, Vanderbilt honored LaChance, Roberson, and Matthew Fisher-Davis, bringing each one out to half court with their families and presenting them with a framed jersey.
On the Missouri side, many questioned whether this would be the long awaited return of Michael Porter Jr., last year’s number two overall recruit and a projected NBA lottery pick. It wasn’t Michael however, that carried the Tiger offense. He sat out again. Instead, it was his younger brother Jontay, who showed off his versatile skillset on his way to 24 points and seven boards on 9-10 shooting.
“We’ve got a special ability of making the other big on the other team look really good against us,” Drew joked about Porter’s night. “Tonight was kind of par for that course.”
Missouri won the opening tip, and Evans immediately fouled to allow senior Fisher-Davis to check out of the game to a standing ovation from the crowd. The 6’5 senior hadn’t started a game since January 13th against the Kentucky Wildcats due to a shoulder injury that has sidelined him for the season.
“We’ve spent basically three and a half years together and it was great to have him out there even if it was just for a second,” said Roberson of his teammate.
LaChance got the scoring going for the Commodores with a quick three, keeping Vanderbilt’s three-point streak alive in classic fashion. After an Ejike Obinna jumper, Roberson took the offensive reigns, scoring 11 straight points and hitting three consecutive three pointers. The threes seemed to be falling early for Vanderbilt, with 24 of its 32 first half points coming from beyond the arc.
Defensively, Drew seemed determined to not allow a repeat performance from Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M. The Tigers forced the ball inside early, getting a couple quick buckets from Jeremiah Tilmon, but Vanderbilt doubled often, forcing nine first half turnovers. Porter was held out of the paint in the first half, but provided a spark from distance, connecting on two early threes.
The Commodores struggled out of the gate in the second half, missing its first four free throws, but Roberson converted on two running layups to get the scoring going. The Tigers answered with a couple interior buckets of their own, including a wide open layup from Kevin Puryear on a savvy feed from Porter that sparked a huge run. Vanderbilt couldn’t buy a basket, going more than six minutes without scoring a point and allowing the Tigers to open up a 12-point lead on the back of a 10-0 run. Much of the scoring came from Jordan Barnett, who rattled off 14 second half points after being held scoreless in the first.
Desperate for a bucket, Vanderbilt turned to LaChance, who nailed two straight three-point jumpers to bring some life into the crowd, but Porter and Barnett continued to answer with jumpers of their own. Another three and a slam dunk from Porter gave Missouri a 15-point lead, its largest of the night.
LaChance answered with another three, but a Kassius Robertson triple proved to be the dagger, spoiling senior night in Memorial.
Vanderbilt will close out its season in Oxford when the Commodores take on the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday at 7:30 pm.