If you want to find a team that is the antithesis of this Vanderbilt basketball team, look no further than the Texas A&M Aggies, and as their styles clashed Thursday night at Memorial Gym, the Commodores were able to prevail 72-67 and complete the series sweep.
Vanderbilt used its usual three-point shooting proficiency to slide past a tough opponent in Texas A&M, who dominated the paint all night with their twin bigs in Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, who combined for 38 points and 19 rebounds.
However, what wouldn’t work in the first half clicked in the second, as Luke Kornet clamped down on the defensive end and put together 11 rebounds and five blocks to close out a gritty win.
Texas A&M roared out of the gates with an 11-0 run capped off by a two rim-rattling dunks by Davis and Williams. It was easy offense early for Davis and the Aggies, as they owned the offensive glass and the paint. The Commodores had an answer, however, and they went back to what they do best—the three ball. Matthew Fisher-Davis gave Vanderbilt’s offense a run of their own, hitting three straight triples to bring them back from a double digit deficit. Fisher-Davis came off the bench for the second straight game, but coach Bryce Drew was quick to downplay the importance of the junior’s benching.
“Matt came in and was very important,” Drew said. “He played 30 minutes, basically the third most on the team, so I don’t really look at the starters as important as who finishes the game.”
Drew showed confidence in his stars, leaving both Fisher-Davis and Roberson in after both players committed their second fouls with ample time left in the first half. Roberson proved Drew right, hitting a three to give his team a 35-34 lead going into the locker room.
Davis followed up a 15-point first half with more of the same, having his way with Kornet and converting on two buckets right out of the break. While Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy’s game plan seemed stagnant, the Commodores showed a different look on offense, attacking the basket early and often, with LaChance giving the offense a burst. After attempting 19 threes in the first half, Bryce Drew’s squad took only seven in the second.
Vanderbilt’s short run was halted by Roberson picking up his fourth foul. Roberson’s absence gave Williams a favorable matchup on freshman Clevon Brown, and Williams converted with his second and third alley-oop jams of the evening.
Kornet started to heat up in the second half, hitting his first three showing some aggression inside, prompting a few trips to the free throw. The tension between Kornet and Davis was palpable, and with three fouls, the crowd at Memorial Gymnasium seemed set on getting him his fourth. A couple close no-calls had fans louder than they had been all night, and the place erupted when he finally picked it up on a three-point play by Kornet.
Vanderbilt maintained a small lead through most of the second half, and Kornet was able to mitigate the Aggies’ success inside with Davis out, blocking J.C. Hampton’s layup and turning it into a three-point play from Joe Toye on the other end with just over three minutes to go. Even after Davis checked back in, Kornet looked steady on defense, picking up his third double-double of the season. Fisher-Davis aided the efforts with a three and a running layup of his own.
Then came the under two-minute mark, and it’s the time where Vanderbilt has struggled to hold leads all season long. Clinging to a five-point lead, the Commodores fouled Davis, who swished both free throws. A miss from deep by Fisher-Davis gave the Aggies the ball left with a minute to go down three. Kornet came up big for the Commodores with his third block of the game, and Tony Trocha-Morelos couldn’t sink his three on the other end that would have tied the game. Instead, A&M was forced to send LaChance to the line, who calmly sank both free throws to ice the game.
“The guys really dug in the last three minutes,” said Drew. “We got the defensive stops that we needed to win the game.”
Vanderbilt’s hard-fought victory was a positive sign for a team that really struggled at Missouri this past weekend, and needed a bounce back in a big way to keep their NIT hopes in sight.
The Commodores look to ride this win into their next game against 21st ranked South Carolina at home this Saturday.