Vanderbilt’s upset run in the SEC tournament came to a sudden halt on Saturday.
After wins over Texas A&M and a nationally-ranked Florida team, the Commodores could not get it done in their third game in as many days. It was the taxing overtime win over the Gators last night that may have caused problems in Vanderbilt’s 76-62 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
“For us coming into the game we knew a lot of emotion had to be taken out of us from last night,” head coach Bryce Drew said.
As was the case throughout the loss, shots would just not fall for the Commodores to start the game, as they went 0-for-7 even before the first media timeout. Vanderbilt finished with 30.4 percent shooting overall, its second-worst performance from the field this season.
The Razorbacks, on the other hand, got going straight from the tip as a fast break by Jaylen Barford led to an easy layup. Barford, who had a game-high 18 points, got another breakaway opportunity off a Vanderbilt turnover but was fouled with a clear lane to the basket by Nolan Cressler for two free throws and possession.
He made one of those and was followed by a Moses Kingsley tip-in. Vanderbilt picked up some early fouls, four team fouls in the first four minutes.
An Anton Beard layup in transition followed by a Daryl Macon basket inside made it a 9-0 start for the Hogs, forcing Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew to talk things over with a quick timeout.
A Cressler three removed the lid that seemed to be on the basket for a first Commodore field goal in 10 tries. Vanderbilt got on a run afterwards with Kornet fouled on his way to a reverse and making both shots from the charity stripe. Following a Dusty Hannahs basket at the other end, Roberson found Kornet unmarked inside for a slam.
Vanderbilt also tightened it up on defense to muster a 10-2 run of its own. A Kornet rejection, which got him the school record for career blocks, led to a three by Riley LaChance and the Commodores were suddenly back in this.
With Arkansas going into the full-court press out of the second media timeout, freshman guard Payton Willis got some minutes for his ball-handling. Vanderbilt continued to double-team a dangerous big, Kingsley, in the post as it had done with Texas A&M’s twin big men.
The Commodores went to the free-throw line 13 times in the first half, making all 13. LaChance, who led Vanderbilt with 12 points, was particularly prolific at getting to the line. He made all seven of his attempts, including three straight for a foul beyond the arc.
Two guards, LaChance and Barford led their respective teams in scoring for the period with 10 each, while the matchup inside between Kingsley and Kornet only produced eight points between them. Arkansas went into the locker room with a four-point lead over Vanderbilt, 35-31.
The Hogs came in firing out of the half with three baskets inside for a 6-0 run to make it a double digit lead for the first time in the game. A Hannahs basket was followed by a Kingsley breakaway slam off a Kornet turnover. Barford, who played intense defense to start the period, forced two early turnovers from the Commodores and made a contested basket of his own to force a Drew timeout.
“I thought the second half we really came out and our defense really turned up the pressure on Vanderbilt and gave us some easy opportunities,” said Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson.
Barford continued where he left off, making another contested layup with Kornet lurking, and pressuring LaChance into his fourth turnover for the game. By the time the media timeout came, Arkansas had extended their run to 10-0 to start the half to make it a 14-point lead.
With the Commodores struggling to make a shot — they shot 23 percent from the field for much of the game — they went to Kornet inside, and he was fouled for two free-throw makes. After that came a barrage of three unanswered treys from the Razorbacks to extend the lead to over 20 points and force Drew into another timeout, his last of the game taken with over 12 minutes still to play.
Such was the dominance of the Hogs in the second half. Another Vanderbilt turnover, its sixth of the half, led to another layup in transition for Barford, who led the field with 18 points, to extend the lead to 25 points.
Vanderbilt’s first three-pointer in the second half came after eleven shots from downtown and took until just over the six-minute mark. For a team that has established its offensive identity around its explosiveness from beyond the arc, this was not a winning formula.
“For us to win games, we have to shoot the ball much better than that,” Drew said.
But for better or for worse, they kept firing from out there with Toye making another one just after.
The Commodores still had some fight left in them, responding with a Roberson basket inside and a LaChance layup to cut the lead to fourteen with three minutes to play.
“I think it was a good way to end the game,” Vanderbilt forward Joe Toye said. “We didn’t just give up. We kept fighting.”
Down by 13 and with under two minutes remaining, Vanderbilt turned to intentional fouls to force the Hogs to the line and stop the clock.
The Razorbacks contained their opponents’ offense and made their free throws down the stretch to hand Vanderbilt only its second loss in its last nine games and end the Commodores’ run in the SEC tournament.