In a tense game, the Vanderbilt Commodores fell to the Kansas State Wildcats 84-79 at Memorial Gym on Sunday.
Saben Lee continued to demonstrate his explosiveness, drawing 9 fouls in the game to the tune of 19 points. Roberson exhibited his strength and versatility, scoring 22 points and securing 10 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass.
However, the Commodores were unable to effectively stop the Wildcats from scoring, and struggled to convert their own shots in the first half, with a furious comeback in the second half falling short.
From the opening tip, both teams started nailing shots and smoothly flowing through their offenses. Vanderbilt nailed a couple threes, as did Kansas State, but the difference was Kansas State also scored buckets in the midrange and the paint.
While Vanderbilt struggled to find the right touch around the rim, Kansas State converted their opportunities attacking the paint and setting up easy layups, scoring 20 points in the paint compared to four from the Commodores in the first half.
The one exception for the Commodores was Saben Lee, who reached the free throw line six times in the first half, making 8-12 free throws.
Lee remained level-headed about his performance.
“I wasn’t really that surprised,” Lee said. “Just driving and finishing, just gotta find contact…[Coach Drew’s] giving me a lot of tips here and there especially since he played the point guard position.”
The Wildcats took a 24-16 advantage halfway through the first half, and on offense, Vanderbilt continued to get relatively open looks on the perimeter, but never found their rhythm, shooting just 7-21 in the first half.
Despite grabbing five offensive rebounds, they missed their second-chance opportunities as well, obtaining only two points in that manner. When Vanderbilt tried to drive to the rim, they were regularly cut off easily by Kansas State defenders and unable to create easy shots.
The Wildcats, on the other hand, continued finding success attacking the basket, converting some skillful and-ones high off the glass, going on a 13-5 run over 5 minutes to take a 37-21 advantage at 5:07.
Vanderbilt tightened up the defense enough to hold Kansas State scoreless for the next 2:59, and just six points in the final five minutes of the half, but the damage had been done. Scoring just nine points in those five minutes, the Commodores faced a 43-30 deficit at the half.
The second half started with exciting back-and-forth play, with Baptiste asserting himself in the paint for back to back offensive boards, drawing the foul, and then making a nifty right hook on the next possession.
The Commodores attacked the basket effectively, with Lee making a layup, and Roberson and Toye converting tip-ins, but Kansas State responded with multiple jumpers, maintaining their solid lead at 48-39.
However, the Commodores were back in the game, with the crowd excitedly back with them. A renewed emphasis on crashing the paint and establishing themselves in the post, on the backs of Toye, Roberson, and Baptiste, led to 16 points in the paint nine minutes into the half.
Coach Bryce Drew credited the team’s increased physicality, and Roberson and Baptiste for their strong play in the 2nd half.
“We kind of have to be a little bit tougher,” Drew said. “Keep them out of the paint, to try and get defensive stops…I thought [Roberson and Baptiste’s] intensity coming out and rebounding the basketball, on both ends of the court…really helped changed the game for us.”
Despite the Wildcats continuing to respond with impressive shot-making time and time again, a sequence of a Roberson bucket in the post, a Roberson three off a steal, and a Baptiste block brought the Commodores to within six, with a score of 58-52 at 11:31.
A Riley LaChance pull-up three brought the crowd to its feet. But a couple minutes later, LaChance was called for an offensive foul followed by a technical foul, fouling out of the game, sparking the crowd again, this time for different reasons.
The Commodores’ resilience was tested with their senior leader out, and they responded positively behind a group effort, tying the game at 3:33 on a Fisher-Davis off-balance three.
With both teams in the bonus and attacking the basket, both teams took multiple trips to the line, but Kansas State took the advantage, shooting 9-10 on free throws compared to Vanderbilt’s 5-8 in the closing minutes.
Despite better production around the basket on 22 points in the paint and 14 second-chance points in the second half, and a huge three by Toye in the final minute, the Commodores were unable to complete the comeback.
Vanderbilt will return to action against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders on Wednesday, December 6th, at 7:00pm.