Vanderbilt took to Brooklyn Thursday afternoon to take on the Virginia Cavaliers in front of a largely absent crowd at the Barclays Center. Unfortunately for Commodore fans, their team failed to show up as well. Vanderbilt was outcoached and outworked, and Virginia demolished the Commodores by a score of 68–42.
Since Tony Bennett took over the head coaching job at Virginia in 2009, stifling defense has been the hallmark of his team, and this season had been no different. Coming into this contest, the Cavaliers ranked eighth in the nation in opposing scoring, allowing a mere 54.3 points per game. In this game, 54 points never seemed like a possibility.
“We ran a lot of actions, and they did a great job taking away actions, and it boils down to sometimes, someone having to make a play,” said Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew of his mostly stagnant offense. “That’s not by design but when the shot clock is down to ten, we got to make a play.”
For Vanderbilt, the game plan seemed off from the get-go. A notoriously dangerous three-point shooting team, the Commodores set few ball screens to get open looks from three, and instead tried to force the ball inside. Often times this was done with reckless abandon, leading to multiple charging fouls by Vanderbilt guards.
“We should have made the extra pass. We talked about making the extra pass and we didn’t do that,” said Drew, clearly frustrated at some of the shot selection in the paint.
Other times those guards were met by the taller bodies and longer arms of the Cavalier bigs, who finished the game with eight blocks, led by Isaiah Wilkins, who had three himself.
“We got to try to attack the rim even harder and try to dunk on them and not leave it up to chance with a finger roll,” said Drew.
On defense, the Commodores struggled to keep up with the Cavaliers. Failure to close out on shooters resulted in a 48% three-point percentage. Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome in particular lit it up from three, combining for 32 points on eight triples. Virginia’s superior athleticism reared its head on the boards as well, and the Commodores were outrebounded, 42 to 36.
Right from the opening tip, the rout was on. Virginia scored the first eight points of the ballgame before Larry Austin Jr. finally tacked on a free throw to get Vanderbilt on the board in the first half.
“Virginia’s not a team that you want to get behind on, especially early,” said Drew. “They’re really hard to come back on.”
The rest of the game only proved Bryce Drew right.
Even after the free throw, the Commodores failed to hit a field goal for the first 7:45 of the ballgame. By the time Djery Baptiste dropped in those two points, Vanderbilt faced a 12-point deficit. After a Jeff Roberson jumper, the Commodores went nearly another six minutes without points, allowing Virginia to open up a 26-5 lead to open up the game.
Matthew Fisher-Davis started to get it going late in the first half, hitting two threes, but the team still found little success inside. Wilkins was the main man clogging up the paint, swatting away two shots in one possession in emphatic fashion that sent this small crowd into a frenzy.
Kyle Guy finished the first half for the Cavaliers with a clinic beyond the arc, hitting three triples, the last of which came on a fadeaway right in front of the Commodore bench.
The second half was more of the same, with Jerome opening up the scoring by nailing a couple threes to push the lead to 31 points. Mamadi Diakite went on a miniature run of his own for the Cavaliers, scoring eight points in a span of just a couple minutes to keep things going.
Vanderbilt went on a run at the end of the second half to make things respectable, as Maxwell Evans, Clevon Brown, and Joe Toye gave Vanderbilt a scoring spark. It was too little too late, however, as Virginia held on to blow out the Commodores and advance to the finals of the NIT Tip-off.
Vanderbilt will look to turn things around quickly, as they will be back in Brooklyn tomorrow night at 9:45 ET to take on the loser of Seton Hall versus Rhode Island in the third-place matchup.