At the beginning of the season, Vanderbilt fans might have expected big things from the Commodores if told to expect a season sweep of Texas A&M.
As it turns out, the Commodores’ two victories over a struggling Aggies squad aren’t signature wins. But Vanderbilt’s 72-67 victory over A&M on Thursday was important nonetheless, as the ‘Dores now find themselves back at .500 at 13-13 (6-7 SEC) and hold a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Aggies (13-12, 5-8). Here are five takeaways from the win.
Vanderbilt’s bench impresses
The ‘Dores fell behind quickly, as they found themselves down 11-3 within the first five minutes of the game. There seemed to be a large lack of momentum straight from the beginning as Vanderbilt did not reclaim the lead until 3:36 left in the first half on a Joe Toye three-pointer.
At first, when Matthew Fisher-Davis checked into the game and picked up two quick fouls, it looked like it was going to be a rough night for the sharpshooter. However, as he began to heat up from behind the arc, the team soon followed.
“I don’t really look at the starters being as important as who’s finishing the game,” head coach Bryce Drew noted after the game.
This was encapsulated by Fisher-Davis, who led the team with 14 points off the bench. Fisher-Davis said after the game, while the team clearly has offensive weapons, the real key was “locking down on the defensive end and rebounding.” Vanderbilt’s bench ended up outscoring Texas A&M’s 23-2 and ultimately led the team to victory.
With Tyler Davis standing 6’10” and Robert Williams standing 6’9″, the Commodores had their hands full the entire night. Drew had made it known throughout practice that week that rebounding was something the team needed to work on significantly in preparation for this matchup. By the end of the game, Vanderbilt was outscored 42-22 in the paint, but that was with a valiant effort on the boards. After being out-rebounded by 10 in the first half, Vanderbilt turned it around in the second half by being plus-five on the glass, which was a big part on the outcome of the game.
A tale of two halves
As Drew stated in the post game interview, his team “definitely didn’t come out with the energy they would have liked to come out with.” After a dismal first 10 minutes of the game, the ‘Dores began to turn things around and went into halftime with a one point lead. The game plan seemed to completely shift for Vanderbilt when it came out of the locker room. They began to attack the rim with much more frequency and were much more aggressive on the boards, which led to Davis, Chris Collins, and JC Hampton all being in foul trouble for Texas A&M. The ‘Dores also ended up having 18 attempted free throws in the second half in comparison to only four they had in the first half.
Being outsized and having trouble penetrating and getting to the basket, the Commodores seemed to rely heavily on their outside shooting in the first half. At halftime, the ‘Dores had made eight triples on 19 attempts. However, in the second half, they only went 2-of-7 from behind the arc, which comes to a total of 10-for-26 on the game. On the opposite end, Vanderbilt’s defense eventually locked down the lanes and prevented guards from getting to the basket. This ended up forcing Texas A&M to take outside shots, which resulted in them only making three three-pointers on 16 attempts.
Luke Kornet vs. Tyler Davis
Perhaps the most entertaining matchup between two bigs that fans will get to see all year, Vanderbilt’s Luke Kornet and Texas A&M’s Davis battled it out the entire game. Davis definitely seemed to be controlling the game in the first half, but Kornet turned things around offensively in the second. Although Davis ended up finishing with 25 points and six rebounds, he ran into foul trouble with 8:36 still left to play after picking up his fourth foul.
Kornet scored all 12 of his points in the second half and finished with a double-double, which included 11 rebounds. The untold tale of Kornet’s stat line was his impressive showing on the defensive end, as he picked up five blocks with only committing two fouls. That made Kornet’s performance all the more impressive.
“His defense was tremendous today … against very good bigs that A&M has,” Drew said.