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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.

Round 2: Memorial Madness continues as the Commodores host No. 1 seed Dayton

Vanderbilt will take on Dayton in the 2nd round of the NIT on Sunday.
Rodney+Chatman+surveys+the+floor+in+Vanderbilts+home+contest+against+South+Carolina+on+Jan.+8%2C+2021.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Rodney Chatman surveys the floor in Vanderbilt’s home contest against South Carolina on Jan. 8, 2021. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Memorial Madness continues on Sunday as the No. 1 seed Dayton Flyers (24-10) arrive in Nashville to face the No. 4 seed Vanderbilt Commodores (18-16) and their resurgent home crowd. Although Dayton is the highest seed in their quadrant of the NIT bracket, Vanderbilt is favored to win due to their superlative play of late and a newfound home-court advantage. The Commodores are 4-2 all-time against Dayton and 2-1 in home games. 

Both teams are playing their best basketball of the season heading into this decisive postseason matchup. After a 74-55 thrashing of Toledo in the first round of the NIT tournament, Dayton has won eight of their last 10 games. If not for a last-minute defeat at the hands of Richmond in the Atlantic 10 championship, the Flyers would be playing in the NCAA Tournament right now. Their impressive season resume includes wins over Big 12 champions Kansas (No.1 seed in NCAA tournament) and ACC champions Virginia Tech (No. 11 seed in NCAA tournament).

Vanderbilt is coming off a similarly impressive showing in the opening round of the tournament, having handedly defeated Nashville rival Belmont by double digits. After trailing 24-12 midway through the first half, the Commodores rallied behind an efficient 24-point performance from Jordan Wright to win the game 82-71. The Commodores have won four of their last five games, including clutch victories against Georgia and Alabama in the SEC Tournament. A win on Sunday would be Vanderbilt’s 11th home win of the season, their highest total since they won 11 home games in the 2017-18 season.

While a postseason game is a special experience for any player, this game will mean a little more to sixth-year senior Rodney Chatman, who played for Dayton for two seasons from 2019-2021. Chatman, who started 31 games and played alongside national college player of the year Obi Toppin on the storied 2019 Dayton team (29-2, 18-0), stayed with the team until his graduation in 2021. Chatman remarked on the surreal experience of facing his former team in the postseason.

It’s just a full-circle moment,” Chatman said. “[Head] coach Anthony Grant is a great coach, I still love him to this day. It’ll be a fun game. I kind of wish it was at UD Arena so we could go there—it would have been special. But we got a home game and that’s much better for our team.”

A healthy Chatman has provided a huge boost for the Commodores in their recent string of victories. After missing an extended stretch of games from February to March, Chatman returned for the SEC Tournament as a steadying presence in the backcourt. In Vanderbilt’s NIT first round matchup with Belmont, Chatman scored 10 points and sank a few crucial 3s to seal the victory for the Commodores.

While Chatman’s veteran leadership has been vital for the Commodores, there’s no question Jordan Wright has been the driving force behind Vanderbilt’s recent stretch of winning basketball. Wright is averaging 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game across Vanderbilt’s last five, up from his season averages of 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds. In his last 2 games, Wright exploded for 24 points against Belmont and 27 points against Kentucky, on a combined 74% shooting from the field and 70% from 3. If he stays this hot against Dayton, Wright might just burn down Memorial Gymnasium.

“He’s just been on constant attack, he’s been himself lately. He’s a great player and a great shooter,” Chatman said of Wright’s recent breakout. “ He has a big body to get to the rim, and he’s been playing more under control. Earlier in the season he would hesitate on a couple catch and shoot 3s. Now he’s just letting it fly… and I think it’s paid off for him.”

Wright’s offensive surge has made for a timely replacement for the team’s usual source of scoring, point guard Scotty Pippen Jr. The All SEC First-Teamer is enduring a bit of a slump, having scored only 20 combined points on 16.6% shooting from the field in his last two games. Currently averaging 19.9 points per game, Pippen still has a chance to become the first SEC player to average 20 points per game in consecutive seasons since Ronnie Henderson of LSU did so from 1994-96. Head coach Jerry Stackhouse isn’t concerned by Pippen Jr.’s uncharacteristically subpar shooting in recent games.

“I think it all depends on how you look at ‘struggling’,” Stackhouse said. “Yeah, he hasn’t shot the basketball well, but I think he’s still been leading the team well. He’s still getting guys involved.”

The Commodores will hope their leader returns to form against an extremely disciplined Dayton team that makes their opponents pay for missed opportunities. Touted for their complete approach to the game, the Flyers are shooting a commendable 47.7% from the field and 36.5% from 3 as a team; both figures are higher than Vanderbilt’s respective season averages. The Flyers also average more assists (14) and rebounds (35) per game than the Commodores.

“They’re definitely disciplined and they’ve grown a lot this year from earlier in the year to where they are right now and they’ve been able to win games while doing so,” Stackhouse said. “We definitely have to respect who they are, come out focused and hopefully get off to a better start than we did in the first round game and just be focused on our attention to details on both ends.”

Dayton freshman DaRon Holmes II, a 6’10” forward with excellent touch around the rim, is expected to shoulder the offensive burden for the Flyers. Coming off a 20-point performance in Dayton’s first round win against Toledo, the Flyers will need a dominant performance out of Holmes to mitigate the absence of crafty point guard Malachi Smith.

“[Holmes is] athletic. He’s long. He’s not as burly as some of the guys that we see,” Stackhouse said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to wear him down a little bit. But he’s definitely good.”

There’s no question the Commodores have their work cut out for them, but a win on Sunday is certainly attainable for Vanderbilt. Stackhouse trusts his team will be ready to do whatever it takes to grind out a victory.

“They run their stuff hard, they play hard. I think it’s just an identity of their coach, a guy that’s been around for a long time, a guy that I have a lot of respect for,” Stackouse said. “We know that they’re going to play hard. I feel like we have a little bit more of an experienced team so maybe that can tilt the scales a little bit for us.”

The Commodores and Flyers will face off at 2 p.m. CDT on Sunday.

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About the Contributor
Brandon Karp, Senior Staff Writer
Brandon Karp ('25) is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is studying human and organizational development and political science in Peabody College. You can reach him at [email protected].
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