Five straight wins at Memorial Gym is no more.
The Commodores did all they could to come back from a massive second-half deficit, but couldn’t complete the comeback on their home floor, falling 89-81 at the hands of the Texas A&M Aggies in the two teams’ first and only meeting of the season.
Vanderbilt trailed all but three minutes of this game, struggling to stop the Aggies from getting whatever shot they wanted. Tyler Davis and TJ Starks led the way for Texas A&M, providing a combined 40 points and shooting 13-17 from the field.
This was a must-win game for Texas A&M, who was looking to end a three-game losing skid that has jeopardized its NCAA Tournament aspirations. A loss against an 11-17 Vanderbilt team might have placed them on the outside looking in. Instead, the Aggies got exactly what they needed: a dominating performance to show the committee that this team is still a force to be reckoned with. There were flashes of Texas A&M’s drubbing of West Virginia to open the year that led many to believe that it could be the team to beat in the SEC.
“We knew coming in that it was going to be a tough matchup for us, especially with Djery out,” said Drew of the mismatch in the paint. “Poundage wise, we just didn’t know if we had enough to contend with their size and length. We really didn’t have an answer for them until those last four minutes.”
For Vanderbilt, only one home game remains in a season to be forgotten. It will be the last time in their illustrious careers that Jeff Roberson and Riley LaChance step onto the floor at Memorial Gym in front of a packed house. The two seniors shined again in this one, combining for 44 points, with LaChance hitting six threes. Saben Lee had two triples of his own, adding to a night in which he was just a rebound and an assist away from a triple-double. Maxwell Evans hit three of four three-point attempts in an increased offensive role.
It was a bit of a new look starting lineup for Vanderbilt, with Bryce Drew giving sophomores Peyton Willis and Clevon Brown the starts, just the fourth start of the year for both players. They wasted no time affirming the decision. Willis forced two turnovers right off the bat, and tossed an alley-oop to Brown on the Commodores’ first offensive possession.
The rest of the half, however, was all Texas A&M. After trailing 5-4, the Aggies went on a 16-4 run, leaning on Davis in the post one possession after another. Savion Flagg capped off the run with a three-ball, leaving the crowd in stunned silence.
As the first half went on, the Aggies became increasingly confident in their post play. An injury to Djery Baptiste prior to Saturday’s game left the Commodores with just two big men in Obinna and Brown, and both ran into early foul trouble. Obinna picked up three fouls in just seven first-half minutes, and Brown picked up two, which forced them to play more passively on the block.
Even when the Aggies didn’t get the post looks they wanted, they were able to kick it out to shooters, including DJ Hogg, who made both of his threes in the first half. His second three gave Texas A&M an 18-point lead, its largest of the half. Another Saben Lee highlight-reel dunk ignited the Commodores before the half.
Vanderbilt started the second half hot, hitting its first three attempts from deep, but Starks continued to answer with threes of his own for the Aggies.
“The quicker they get a shot down down there, the quicker we get the ball back,” said Drew. “Especially when we double the post, that speeds it up. Usually there’s going to be action right out of that.”
After picking up two early fouls in the first half, NBA-bound forward Robert Williams returned to the hardwood in the second with a bang, finishing an alley-oop at the rim and subsequently hitting an and-one. Davis tacked on a rare three-pointer for good, measure, giving the Aggies a 22-point lead.
Vanderbilt went on a 29-9 run of their own to cut the lead to seven with just over a minute to play, and four with over 30 seconds, but the deficit was still too tough to overcome, and Vanderbilt dropped its second straight contest.
The Commodores will host the Missouri Tigers Tuesday on Senior Night, looking to finish their season on a high note.