Vanderbilt hosts Auburn in pursuit of second SEC win

The Vanderbilt Commodores face the Auburn Tigers in a Tuesday night matinee, looking to avenge their most recent loss to Georgia.


Hunter Long

Scotty Pippen Jr. plays against South Carolina in Vanderbilt’s Victory against South Carolina on Saturday, January 30, 2021 (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long)

Andy Carr, Staff Writer

Following their seventh SEC loss of the season against the Georgia Bulldogs, the Vanderbilt Commodores (5-9, 1-7) host the Auburn Tigers (10-10, 4-7) on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

Vanderbilt has just four SEC victories over the past two seasons and is currently in last place in the conference. Auburn, sitting just two spots higher, is having a tough year as well with four conference victories to date. Both teams are coming off close losses this past Saturday: Georgia narrowly defeated Vanderbilt 73-70, while Ole Miss escaped with a 86-84 win over Auburn in overtime. 

Vanderbilt leads the all-time series 88-51, but they have not defeated Auburn since 2017, the last time the Commodores made the NCAA tournament.

Vanderbilt has, however, given Auburn a run for their money in their last several matches. Last season, the Commodores only lost by four points to the then No. 5 ranked Tigers. In 2019, during Vanderbilt’s notorious 0-19 SEC campaign, Auburn pulled away in the second half to win 64-53. And in 2018, Vanderbilt lost in a shootout to the then No. 11 ranked Tigers, 93-81. 

In 2017, the story was different. The Commodores dismantled the Tigers 80-61, as they were led by Matthew Fisher-Davis, who scored a career-high 33 points. 

This season, Auburn is led by a duo of young guards: freshman Sharife Cooper and sophomore Allen Flanigan. Cooper sat out the first 12 games of the season while awaiting the findings of an NCAA investigation into his eligibility; since his return, he has led the team in scoring at 20.3 points per game. Drawing parallels to ex-Commodore Darius Garland, Cooper is only 6’1”, 180lbs, but his quickness and tremendous body control make him a menace on the court. 

Flanigan, on the other hand, has been a steady producer for the Tigers, averaging 14.1 points per game and playing in all 20 games thus far. He comes second only to Cooper in minutes per game, and at 6’6”, 215 lbs, he uses his size, athleticism and toughness to overpower defenses.

With their young and athletic core, the Tigers gave the No. 2 ranked Baylor Bears a serious test just nine days ago in a 84-72 matchup. 

The Tigers rank third in the SEC with an average of 79.1 points per game and in a contest with South Carolina earlier in the year, they put up a whopping 109 points. Fifth in the SEC in field goal percentage and second in the SEC in three-point percentage, Auburn is a high-scoring team. 

For Vanderbilt, the keys to the matchup on defense will be slowing down Cooper and Flanigan. On offense, the Commodores can help themselves by taking smart shots from the perimeter, getting to the foul line and valuing possession.

The Commodores shot just 43.4 percent from the field last Saturday, and they were unable to win despite 21 turnovers by the Bulldogs. The Tigers turn the ball over a lot, as they average over 16 turnovers per game, but the Commodores will need to have a strong transition offense to turn those into points on the other end.

While the Commodores have shown at times that they have a high-producing offense, they will also need to do their best to limit the Tigers from running up the scoreboard. In order to do so, Vanderbilt will need a strong game from Dylan Disu. The 6’9”, 220 lb forward leads the SEC in defensive rebounds per game, and he also makes his presence known at the rim, as he ranks in the top ten in the SEC in blocks per game. 

Offensively, the Commodores will also need a big game from Disu. The Commodores are second in the SEC in free throw percentage, while the Tigers are ranked tenth. If they can use the inside threat of Disu to get to the foul line, they can dominate that part of the box score and put themselves in a position to win the game.

While Disu has also been a producer on the offensive side of the ball, he needs help from his teammates. Scotty Pippen Jr. is second in the SEC in points per game, but he did not have a stellar performance in Saturday’s loss to Georgia. With just 12 points and shooting 25 percent from the field, Pippen Jr. will need to be more involved to give the Commodores a shot Tuesday. 

In addition, the Commodores will look towards guards Jordan Wright and Maxwell Evans to make an impact. Wright finished with 12 points, and Evans had 10 in the Commodores’ most recent loss to Georgia. Both players, however, have the ability to change the outcome of the game. Evans’ 29 points against South Carolina on Jan. 30 were critical to the Commodores outplaying the Gamecocks for 40 minutes.  

Grabbing a home win at this point in the season would be massive for the Commodores, and it is certainly within reach against an inconsistent and young Auburn team that is just 4-7 in conference play. If Vanderbilt plays a clean game of basketball and leans on their stars, they will have a chance of securing their second conference win of the year and will have momentum going forward.