The Vanderbilt Commodores finished on the right side of a thrilling finish at home, picking up a much-needed victory over the LSU Tigers 77-71 after four straight losses.
With Matthew Fisher-Davis out again with a right shoulder injury suffered against Kentucky, Riley LaChance picked up most of the scoring load, and Payton Willis ate some of the minutes on the court left behind by Fisher-Davis’ 11.9 points and 27.7 minutes per game, per Basketball Reference.
On Fisher-Davis’ injury and the possibility of season-ending surgery, Coach Drew responded that the team is still waiting on an update.
“When we talk to the doctor we’ll get more information,” he said. “I’m not good on shoulders, I can’t really talk about what the doctor’s going to recommend for him.”
Here are three thoughts from Saturday’s win.
Riley LaChance puts on a Dazzling Display
LaChance needed a bounce-back game after back-to-back poor performances, as he put up just five points against Mississippi State and six points against Kentucky. It was clear early on that today’s game would be different, as 12 minutes into the game, he had already poured in 11 points, showing off his sweet shooting stroke.
The senior sharpshooter finished with 26 points on 8 for 14 shooting, including 4 for 7 on three pointers. His makes came through a beautiful collection of twisting jumpers from deep and nifty runners off the backboard. He also made two clutch free throws, shooting 6 for 6 on free throws overall, a welcome sight after his misses down the stretch against Kentucky.
This season, LaChance has averaged 8.1 field goal attempts per game, per Basketball Reference, but today he attempted 14 field goals with Fisher-Davis out.
When asked if he should be more aggressive in taking shots, LaChance said he doesn’t think so.
“Just playing within the offense,” LaChance said. “[Today], I think I took a little bit more, and guys did a good job finding me and creating open shots for me.”
The Commodores will need him to continue to exhibit his senior leadership and play on the court. In games where LaChance does not provide a strong scoring performance, the Commodores have very little chance of picking up a win.
Continued Struggles Defending Bigs
Vanderbilt has had its struggles defending in the post this season, and today looked no different. Duop Reath of the LSU Tigers shot 13-20 for 31 points, many through the post.
Djery Baptiste was mainly responsible for Reath, with Clevon Brown and Ejike Obinna seeing a few possessions on him as well. Baptiste gave a strong and disciplined effort, absorbing Reath’s bumps, maintaining good positioning and staying out of foul trouble. He avoided picking up his first foul until there was 8:56 left in the game, and finishing with just three fouls.
However, his performance was not effective enough, as he was a major part of Reath scoring 18.6 points above his season average of 12.4, per Basketball Reference.
Drew provided a mixed review on Baptiste’s defense.
“He had three blocks,” he said. “I think that’s a positive. [He’ll] try to get a little better at contesting at the end of it, but his positioning was much better today. That next step will be after you’re in the right position, what can you do to help stop them from scoring.”
Until the Commodores find greater success defending big men, they will continue to cede an advantage in the matchup at the center position. Obinna and Brown have not proven to be consistent answers either, and doubling the post has seen mixed results.
Saben Lee’s Continued Growth
Commodore fans are well-acquainted with Saben Lee’s ability to pull off impressive dunks with his speed, handle, and athleticism. He delivered the exclamation points of today’s game in clutch time with a one-handed dunk in transition and an incredible runner off the backboard while being fouled.
Early on, after the third game of the season, a win over UNC Asheville, Drew already recognized Lee’s talent, but also his room for growth as a floor general.
“[Lee] does a lot of things out there you can’t teach,” Drew said after that win early in the season. “I think he got winded a little bit. He’s a freshman, so there’s a lot of decisions out there that hopefully as the year progresses he’ll make better reads.”
Not only did he take over today’s game down the stretch, but he also continued to demonstrate maturity in making better reads and creating offense for his teammates, as well as playing really strong defense.
He made multiple impressive passes, including a hook pass to the opposite wing for a LaChance three, an on-target look to a cutting Roberson for the easy layup, and one-handed bounce pass feeds to the post.
Lee is a highlight waiting to happen, but it is his progress in contributing to the flow of the offense through good decision-making that should encourage fans the most.
Drew highlighted his patience.
“He was really working on the defensive end,” he said. “I thought he did a tremendous job. I think he was really patient, a good sign of good maturity. When his time came, he definitely took advantage of it.”
He took over the game at the end, but there is one play he probably wants back. With the Commodores in possession of the ball, up four with less than 40 seconds left, he threw a cross-court pass that was nearly stolen.
Lee has opportunity for growth still, and that is exciting.