Every time it seems that Vanderbilt basketball is turning a corner, and that they might string a few wins together for first-year coach Bryce Drew, they hit a new roadblock. On Saturday, that roadblock was Ole Miss, who used an exceptionally hot shooting second half and a tough zone defense to defeat the Commodores 81-74 in Nashville.
After huge wins against Iowa State at home and Texas A&M on the road, it seemed that Vanderbilt was finally ready to reach its potential, and had a chance to prove it against a beatable opponent. Instead, Vanderbilt settled for long threes that didn’t fall and let up on defense after a strong first half.
Ole Miss shot well over 50 percent in the second half after shooting well under 30 percent in the first, using seven made threes and 47 total points to take the game over. Terence Davis scored 17 in the second half for the Rebels to lead Ole Miss in scoring. Forward Jeff Roberson led Vanderbilt with 21 points to go with seven rebounds.
It was a choppy first half from both teams, as both had droughts in scoring over three minutes. Vandy was unable to really capitalize on a field goal drought of 4:37 from the Rebels early in the half, while Ole Miss used a 2-minute drought from Vandy to pull within 2 before a Luke Kornet three put Vandy up five at the break.
Ole Miss shot just 29 percent in the first half, but were lifted by a stingy zone defense. They forced Vandy to settle for long three-pointers which didn’t fall, leaving the Commodores shooting just four-of-15 from behind the arc in the first half. Ole Miss managed to shoot worse, going 0-of-11 before two Justas Furmanavicius threes in the final minutes got the Rebels back in the game.
Early in the game, Vanderbilt really struggled to guard the Rebels in transition, leading to multiple buckets on the break for Ole Miss. In the five-on-five, Vanderbilt’s defense stood tall, forcing bad shots and protecting the rim with three blocks.
Matthew Fisher-Davis, the Commodores’ leading scorer, had no points in 13 minutes in the first half, forcing Vanderbilt to rely on Roberson and Kornet, who had 11 and seven, respectively. Joe Toye was a spark plug off the bench, grabbing three rebounds and adding six points, including a one-handed tip dunk that brought the crowd at Memorial Gym to life.
Vandy came out of the break flat, adding to its lead temporarily with two Roberson free throws before Ole Miss used two turnovers to go on a 7-0 run in just 41 seconds to take a 36-34 lead. Vandy responded with five straight points, with Fisher-Davis’ first points being a three-pointer with 15:53 to go in the game to give the Commodores a 39-36 lead.
Turnovers plagued the Commodores early in the second half, matching their first half total of five in just eight minutes. Vandy also settled for a lot of threes against the Ole Miss zone, starting just two for nine from behind the arc. This allowed Ole Miss, which went on another scoring drought of over four minutes, to stay in the game.
Ole Miss eventually used the cold Commodore shooting to go on a 12-0 run that spanned just over three minutes to go from a six-point deficit to a six-point advantage about halfway through the final period. The Rebels made five straight shots during the run that took the life out of the Memorial crowd.
Vanderbilt used a quick five-point spurt to close the gap to one, but a 12-2 Ole Miss run that included two long threes from Cullen Neal widened Ole Miss’ lead to 11 with just over seven minutes to play. The 12-2 run capped off a 24-7 run for the Rebels spanning about six minutes and turning the game completely on its head.
Vanderbilt used better three point shooting late in the second half to make a charge with about four minutes to go, but every time it seemed the Commodores would get back in the game, Ole Miss would find a bucket or get fouled. Vanderbilt pulled within three with about 30 seconds left on a Kornet three, but Ole Miss, which shot 23 for 30 on free throws, made enough down the stretch to put the Commodores away.