The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

Commodores battle foul trouble, fall short vs. No. 6 Kentucky

Ziyi Liu
Bryce Drew as Vanderbilt lost to #6 Kentucky 87-81 at Memorial Gym January 10, 2016.

It was that time of the year on the Vanderbilt campus: the night when Kentucky came to town.

The student section was as loud as it’s ever been, but even it was drowned out by the whistles that echoed throughout Memorial Gymnasium all night long. A total of 43 fouls were called over the course of the game, more than one stoppage every minute, and the Vanderbilt contingent let the guys in black and white hear it. While the officials were certainly a bit trigger-happy, they were impartial about it, and by no means did it ruin the rhythm of the game, as the teams combined for 168 points in an 87-81 Kentucky victory.

Fans as Vanderbilt lost to #6 Kentucky 87-81 at Memorial Gym January 10, 2016.

The early foul trouble was a problem for Vanderbilt, as Djery Baptiste picked up four fouls in the first half and Payton Willis and Luke Kornet were whistled for their fourth personals less than four minutes into the second period, forcing the Commodores to be cautious down low for the remainder of the game.

“[Kentucky] was just kind of driving and making shots, and there was a little bit of difficulty trying to play without fouling,” said Kornet, who still managed to log 32 minutes despite his foul trouble.  

The Wildcats were able to take advantage of Vanderbilt’s reluctant defense, with De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe slicing through the defense and finishing at will at the rim.  The two 6’3″ guards combined for 45 points, with the majority of them coming in the paint, as they thrived at attacking Vanderbilt’s vulnerable big men.    

All things considered, the Commodores were down one point with a minute-and-a-half to go against the No. 6 team in the nation without playing their game. For the first half of the season, Vanderbilt has lived and died by the three ball, making them at a 40 percent clip entering their matchup with Kentucky.

The Commodores shot below 28 percent tonight, with Matthew Fisher-Davis, one of the premier three-point shooters in the country, taking and missing contested jumpers all night, finishing two-of-10 from beyond the arc. Even reliable shooters like Nolan Cressler, Willis and Joe Toye couldn’t get shots to fall, as that trio combined for no three-point makes.

With their poor shooting, fouling woes and defensive breakdowns, the Commodores gave Kentucky a run for their money, only the fourth time this season that it has been even remotely challenged. Chalk that up to fantastic ball security, as the Commodores only turned the ball over seven times against a Kentucky team that loves to get out and run.

And while Vanderbilt won’t be up celebrating a six-point loss, it can find solace in the fact that Riley LaChance was brilliant. He had his hiccups, turning the ball over four times and missing a few free throws, but LaChance was able to limit perimeter shots and wasn’t afraid to get into the mix of things on defense, pulling down six rebounds despite being the smallest guy on the court.

He also showed a side of him that Commodore fans haven’t seen much since he arrived on campus more than two years ago, taking the ball to the rack and either finishing or getting to the line.

“They were definitely trying to run me off ball screens with their bigs, and switching a lot,”
said the junior point guard from Brookfield, Wisconsin. “I was just trying to use my quickness against theirs and get to the hole.”

It definitely didn’t go unnoticed to head coach Bryce Drew either.

“Something [LaChance] did tonight that was key for us is that he was able to take advantage off the bounce and make some plays that were really big for us,” said Drew. “Riley did a tremendous job making some tough shots and getting to the free-throw line.”

A nail-biter didn’t seem in the cards for this game early, as Kentucky roared out of the gates to a 9-0 lead, but the Commodores refused to go away, with both teams trading runs in what turned out to be a very even first half.

The Wildcats faced some foul trouble of their own, with both Malik Monk and Fox picking up two personals in the first four minutes, and Vanderbilt was able to take advantage.

Coach John Calipari’s squad seemed unfazed, however, as it continued to feed Bam Adebayo in the post. Vanderbilt had no answer in the first half for the 6’10″ freshman, who powered his way through the paint on nearly every touch. Adebayo was also a force early on defense, as he routinely sat at the top of Kentucky’s zone, following guards around the perimeter in a fashion similar to what Tristan Thompson has been able to do for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA.

The Wildcats got more minutes from Monk and Fox in the second half, and the Commodores struggled to contain the trio of guards thrown at them. Even when Kentucky would go up six or seven points and it looked like they would close it out with a couple more buckets, Vanderbilt answered back, as Jeff Roberson scored on a couple of second-chance opportunities midway through the second period.

Kornet brought the game to within four on a tough three with six minutes to go, and after a few more layups from Briscoe and Fox, he was able to hit another huge three with two-and-a-half minutes remaining. Briscoe followed it up with a step-through and another layup, but LaChance answered with an enormous three from the wing over Adebayo as the shot clock was running down to pull within one with a minute-and-a-half to go.

The Commodores had a chance to take the lead if they could have gotten just one stop down the stretch, but Kentucky scored on every possession in the last 3:19, and Vanderbilt’s defense seemed outmatched.

“We kind of had some issues sealing inside, and that got some looks from Fox on the baseline,” Kornet said. “They got some nice drives against the zone, and we let up some offensive rebounds, which we hadn’t really been doing the whole game, but they came up with a couple there at the end.”

Those couple of rebounds at the end led to scores, and Vanderbilt never got a chance in the final minute, as Monk hit a couple of late free throws to put the game away.

After the game, Drew was still proud of his team.

“I told my guys I was really proud of them,” said Drew.  “Our goal coming in was we wanted to have an opportunity to win the game down the stretch and we definitely had those opportunities.  The next step for us now is to try to make a few more of those winning plays in those last five minutes.”

They’ll get that chance on Saturday at home against a Tennessee team that is also coming off two straight in-conference losses.

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About the Contributors
Max Schneider, Former Sports Editor

Max Schneider (’20) was the Sports Editor for the Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been on staff since the first semester of his freshman year, first as a staff writer and shortly thereafter as the Deputy Sports Editor. Max also serves as the host of VU Sports Wired on Vanderbilt Television and The Hustler Sports 30 on VandyRadio.

He majored in communications studies and political science in the College of Arts and Science. Max has had bylines on and has previously worked for The Nashville Predators, The Players’ Tribune and Nashville SC. He has attended several events as credentialed media, including the 2019 College Baseball World Series, the 2019 NBA Draft and the 2018 Texas Bowl.

Max is a native New Yorker and a die-hard Jets fan still holding out hope.

For tips, please reach out to: [email protected] or find him on Twitter or LinkedIn
Ziyi Liu, Author

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