Five thoughts: Vanderbilt runs away from Arkansas in big win


Max Schneider, Associate Sports Editor

Last time Vanderbilt took on Arkansas, a 15-point lead vanished in minutes, and the Razorbacks capitalized on the Commodores’ massive collapse. This time around, Vanderbilt jumped out to an early 21-point lead and never looked back, refusing to let history repeat itself. With Matthew Fisher-Davis out of the lineup, Vanderbilt stepped it up and came up with another quality win. Here are five thoughts from the 72-59 Commodore victory.

Offense thrives in Fisher-Davis’s absence

News of Matthew Fisher-Davis being suspended for tonight’s game was kept hidden by the program until just minutes before tipoff, as the junior shooting guard didn’t even make the trip to Fayetteville. However, the offense didn’t miss a beat without its top scorer, to the tune of 72 points on 52 percent shooting both from the field and beyond the arc.

Fisher-Davis’s shooting precision is well-documented, but often times the offense seems to stall with the ball in his hands, and possessions will end with deep contested threes and isolation ball. The offense without him consisted of increased ball movement, open shots, drive-and-kick opportunities and easy buckets inside. The ball never stopped, and all five starters’ finishing in double figures was a testament to their ability to share the basketball. Of course, Fisher-Davis is a unique talent, and it would be a blow to lose him going forward, but the offense showed that it is more than capable of getting the job done without him.

Getting off to a fast start

It seems as if Vanderbilt’s formula for winning conference matchups is scoring early and in bunches. This was certainly the case in its first two conference games against LSU and Auburn, and it’s been on display more recently at Texas A&M. Tonight’s performance was no different, as the Commodores raced to a 25-4 lead in the game’s first nine minutes, sparked by a 19-0 run that held Arkansas scoreless for seven of them. Vanderbilt came out of the gate playing with speed and aggression, getting stops early and capitalizing on the other end. They hit 10 of 15 threes in the first half, allowing them to pull away early and coast through the remainder of the game.

Three-point shooting barrage

Unless you haven’t seen any Vanderbilt basketball games this season, you probably know that Vanderbilt can shoot the lights out from deep.

So why is this even a thought? Even for a team as proficient from three as the Commodores are, 67 percent in the first half is unheard of, and even a poor shooting second half left them at a 52 percent mark for the game. Vanderbilt has had tremendous success this season when shooting 40 percent or more from three, and it did it again tonight. Without their best three-point shooter, the other Commodores were able to pick up the slack. Joe Toye and Riley LaChance both drained three triples, Jeff Roberson and Nolan Cressler hit two and Payton Willis and Luke Kornet added one apiece, which allowed the offense to spread the floor. The three-ball opened up the rest of the offensive repertoire for Vanderbilt, something that was on display late in the first half when Arkansas big man Moses Kingsley was forced to close out on Kornet, and Kornet was able to blow right past him for the dunk.

Cressler continues to shine

Remember when Willis overtook Cressler to become the team’s fifth starter?

Those days seem long gone, as Cressler has seized the spotlight and put together a string of impressive performances. He followed up a 20-point performance against Iowa State with two solid games against A&M and Ole Miss and rose to the occasion again tonight with 13 points on just seven shots, knocking down both of his three-point attempts. The big number on the stat sheet for him was the eight rebounds, as he posed a rare presence in the paint for a team that usually relies on just two players, Kornet and Roberson, for its glass-eating. He was a major factor in out-rebounding Arkansas 38-26, a big turnaround for a team that was out-rebounded in its last matchup against the Razorbacks.

Still can’t stop Hannahs

The man at the helm of Arkansas’ late-game heroics the last time these two teams faced off was Dusty Hannahs, a 6’3″ senior who came off the bench and erupted tor 17 points, 14 of which came late in the second half. This game, Hannahs earned himself a starting spot and was without question the main source of offense for the Razorbacks. He seems to be the Commodores’ kryptonite, torching Vanderbilt’s defense for 24 more points on 10-of-19 shooting and knocking down three triples. He beat guards off the dribble and scored in the paint, but since Arkansas was held to only 59 points, Hannahs was the lone bright spot in exploiting a Vanderbilt defense that did an otherwise exceptional job of chasing shooters off the line and limiting fouls.