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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.

Five thoughts: Vanderbilt scratches out win over No. 21 Gamecocks

Ziyi Liu
Joe Toye (2) as Vanderbilt defeated South Carolina 71-62 at Memorial Gym February 18, 2017.

Despite its mediocre record, Vanderbilt entered its game against No. 21 South Carolina on Saturday at Memorial Gym already holding three wins against likely NCAA Tournament teams. Not only did a 71-62 win over the Gamecocks add to that total, but it brought the Commodores to a winning record on the season at 14-13 overall (7-7 SEC). Here are five takeaways from one of Vanderbilt’s best wins of the year.

Memorable 10-minute stretch sealed the win

Head coach Bryce Drew’s squad has struggled for much of the year on defense, rating toward the bottom of the SEC in defensive efficiency since the season started. But for the final 10 minutes against South Carolina, the Commodores put together their most impressive stretch of the season on defense.

Vanderbilt allowed zero field goals from the 9:40 mark of the second half until just 24 seconds remained in the game, at which point the Commodores had already wrapped it up. The Gamecocks scored six points off of free throws in that period, but Drew’s squad rattled off an impressive 23 points themselves against one of college basketball’s premier defenses. What’s more, Vanderbilt played four minutes in this time frame with its best defender, Luke Kornet, on the bench due to his four fouls.

“Luke does so much out there just contesting [shots], but I thought the other guys were great today,” Drew said. “… Clevon [Brown] had three sensational blocks, Djery [Baptiste] had a big block, big minutes. And so it was really a collective, team effort; I thought we did a good job trying to make their baskets hard after that initial start where they kind of got a lot of layups.”

Foul trouble forced Drew’s hand

Drew had to get creative with his lineups Saturday due to the high volume of fouls (44 in total) called throughout the game. Kornet’s fourth foul with about eight minutes remaining in the game caused problems, but he was hardly the only Commodore saddled with foul trouble.

Drew likes to leave his players in the game when they get into foul trouble and is one of the more aggressive coaches in the country at doing so. It looked like the strategy would backfire when forward Jeff Roberson picked up his third foul just 11 minutes into the game, but Roberson’s replacement played well in his absence. The freshman Brown contributed four rebounds and three blocks (although he also had three turnovers), and Vanderbilt outscored South Carolina by one point in his 13 minutes of play.

“I thought Jeff did a good job in the second half,” Drew said. “Sometimes when you get fouls like that, sometimes mentally it can really take you out of the game. Even though he didn’t score like he usually does, just his presence, and his moving the ball and his spacing of the floor were big, and it allowed us to play him the whole second half, with him resting in the first.”

Turnovers mar decent first-half effort

Vanderbilt didn’t shoot well in the first half, but it played good half-court defense and got to the foul line 12 times. All things considered, facing a three-point halftime deficit wasn’t such a bad result considering the Commodores turned the ball over 11 times, or 31.4 percent of the time down the floor. These turnovers allowed South Carolina to score an adequate 30 points in the first period instead of a significantly lower number; the Gamecocks scored eight points off Commodore turnovers.

In the second half, however, Vanderbilt only committed four turnovers and generally looked more comfortable with the ball. This allowed the ‘Dores to hold their lead and prevent things from getting iffy in the last couple of minutes

“I thought our guards, Riley [LaChance] and Payton [Willis], in the second half got used to the pressure a little bit more,” Drew said. “But I also think our movement better; Luke was a lot more active in the second half. We found him a little bit more, and he opened up the floor for us, spacing and hitting some threes.”

Baptiste came to play

Redshirt freshman backup center Djery Baptiste hasn’t had the consistent year many hoped for, and his court time has been low as a result. But Baptiste was the unsung hero of Saturday’s win, as he contributed a solid cameo appearance in the first half and helped hold the team together during its late second-half surge.

When Kornet checked out of the game with 8:15 remaining, Vanderbilt faced a 54-52 deficit. Against a team as strong in the interior as South Carolina, one had to wonder whether the Commodores could keep the Gamecocks from pulling away before Drew would opt to put Kornet back in the game. In the roughly four minutes with Kornet on the bench, however, Baptiste came up with an offensive rebound and a key block on PJ Dozier, along with multiple other quality hustle plays. Baptiste did commit three fouls in that time span, but he showed improved defensive awareness in helping the Commodores take a 59-58 lead by the time Kornet replaced him with 4:27 remaining.

“Djery’s energy was fantastic for us,” Drew said. “He was running the floor hard, he had a big basket on offense and defensively he really got his hands on some balls there that he got or we were able to get that earlier in the game [the Gamecocks] may have picked those up and laid them back in. … Without his effort, we probably don’t win this game.”

Stellar three-point defense

The Commodores’ streak of 991 consecutive games with a made three-pointer might be well known, but their defense almost held South Carolina without a made three on Saturday. South Carolina rates as only the nation’s 142nd-best offense in terms of Ken Pomeroy’s schedule-adjusted efficiency, and its 34.4 percent three-point shooting ranks just 202nd nationally. But Drew’s team held the Gamecocks without a three for the game’s first 19 minutes and 36 seconds, which is an extremely impressive feat no matter the opponent.

According to Pomeroy, the average Division I team takes about 36 percent of its shots from beyond the three-point line, and long jumpers have become an integral part of offenses on all levels of basketball. Holding a team to only one three-pointer all game will virtually guarantee a win every time.

“They made it hard for us,” South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said of the Commodores. “But also, PJ Dozier goes 0-for-3 from the foul line during that segment. Duane Notice has a wide open three and it barely hits the rim. … Give [the Commodores] credit. They stayed in the way; they didn’t get out of the way and make it easy for us. They fought.”

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Ziyi Liu, Author

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