With six minutes left in Tuesday’s game against Arkansas, the Commodores looked comfortable, having built a 15-point lead, the largest of the game. But the Razorbacks chipped away to win the game 71-70 after three free-throw makes from Daryl Macon with 1.6 seconds left on the clock. Here are some thoughts following the heartbreak.
This was a tough loss for first-year coach Bryce Drew to take following the lead his team blew late in the game. Not only did the Hogs overcome a 15-point deficit in the last six minutes, outscoring Vanderbilt 28-12 in that duration, but they also finished the game on a 7-0 run. For the Commodores, they will look at a couple of key plays at the end of the game that decided it. These included Matthew Fisher-Davis fouling out with 3:33 to go; Riley LaChance getting stripped by Moses Kingsley to lead to a Dusty Hannahs layup; and Luke Kornet throwing the ball away to ultimately lead to Macon being fouled beyond the arc for three clutch free throws.
The two most damaging turnovers came in the dying seconds of the game. The first was when LaChance gave the ball away to Kingsley for a Hannahs layup on the break with 23 seconds on the clock. The second came when Kornet threw the ball into the hands of Jaylen Barford with just 12 seconds left, leading to a three-point attempt by Macon, who was fouled by Joe Toye with just 1.6 seconds remaining.
However, that does not tell the whole story, as Vanderbilt couldn’t deal with the Hogs’ pressure defense, turning the ball over 15 times during the game, 10 of which came in the first period. In fact, the turnover differential in the first half was 10-2, with the Hogs scoring six points off of turnovers, two of them on the break. Their carelessness with the ball prevented the ‘Dores from starting out strong. Although the turnover numbers balanced out over the second period, Arkansas finished the game with 10 fast break points to Vanderbilt’s five. “I thought first half we didn’t play as well as we should have,” Drew said.
Free throws were a major factor in this game, especially later in the second half. If we look at the six-minute period in the end when the Hogs came back, half of their 28 points in that duration came at the line. Vanderbilt kept fouling Arkansas players, particularly Hannahs and Macon, who went to the line seven times each, only missing one free throw between them. They were both fouled on three-point attempts to shoot three consecutive free throws during that stretch. You just can’t allow a team to get to the line that often late in games, especially not one that has 89- and 87-percent free-throw shooters in Macon and Hannahs, respectively, and expect to win a close game. Another troubling stat is that two Commodores fouled out of the game: Fisher-Davis with 3:33 left and Toye, whose fifth foul granted Macon the game-winning free throws.
Defense in the paint
Vanderbilt was outscored 32-18 in the paint over the course of the game, with 20 of the Hogs’ 41 second-half points coming in the paint compared to only 14 of the Commodores’ 40. None of the 28 points the Hogs scored during their game-winning run came from beyond the arc. Hannahs made four of the team’s five layups, with the other two field goals on jumpers inside the three-point line. Part of what fed into Arkansas’ easy layups was the Vanderbilt turnovers leading to fast breaks, but the Hogs were able to get by Commodore defenders too easily.
“I thought we lost a little bit of our aggressiveness on defense,” Drew said. “To be able to win a game you’ve gotta get defensive stops in the last five minutes of the game. … Defending the ball one-on-one, that’s something we need to get better at.”
His focus on defensive mistakes was shared by Jeff Roberson, who said that “our defense leads to our offense. Not getting stops probably hurt our offense a little bit.”
Lack of scoring options
This ties into the lack of depth on the Commodores bench, with Drew often going only seven to eight players deep in his rotations. Even though three Commodores, Toye, LaChance and Roberson, scored in double digits, Fisher-Davis, the team’s leading scorer for the season, was held to just seven points on three-of-nine shooting and only one make from downtown. Combined with their poor interior defense down the stretch, the lack of offensive potency hurt Vanderbilt’s footing in the game. Moreover, the Commodores had to face a 7-0 scoring run by the Hogs with Fisher-Davis on the bench to end the game after fouling out with three and a half minutes remaining. Credit has to go to the Hogs’ defense which “did a good job on Fisher-Davis,” per head coach Mike Anderson. LaChance said of the Hogs’ defense, “They never give up. They can trap at any time. They’re relentless in the frontcourt and the backcourt.”