Vanderbilt grinds out 70-62 win over Alabama A&M, improves to 6-6

A solid late stretch kept the Commodores from losing an otherwise rough performance against the Bulldogs.

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Josh Rehders

Jordan Wright helped up by a slew of teammates versus Pittsburgh on Dec. 7, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)

Matthew Shipley, Senior Staff Writer

Following a close loss to NC State on Dec. 17, Vanderbilt got back to .500 on Thursday with a 70-62 win over Alabama A&M. It wasn’t pretty, but the Commodores got the victory with a critical three by senior Jordan Wright with 42 seconds left and key defensive stops in the last minute of the game.

“That was a very tough game. It was a very well-earned victory. I thought our guys really competed, especially on the defensive end down the stretch,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “It was our older guys who came in and got it done for us at the end.”

Stackhouse gave the starting nod to freshman Colin Smith who got the Commodores going with four early points. Wright and senior Ezra Manjon came off the bench and both scored 12 points.

“We’re still figuring out our lineups. Adjusting it a little bit allowed us to get Noah [Shelby] in the game, so we can get a little bit more shooting,” Stackhouse said. “It’s good to have that type of versatility, bringing Jordan [Wright]  and Ezra [Manjon] off the bench. Once those guys get in, I feel comfortable that if those guys have a good rhythm going, they could probably play the rest of the half.” 

After a tight back and forth to start, the Commodores hit a scoring slump, which allowed the Bulldogs to take an early 17-9 lead midway through the first half.

Fifth-year Liam Robbins was then inserted off the bench, and he quickly got to work on the offensive end, adding a pair of free throws and a dunk inside. The 7’0’’ forward finished the game as Vanderbilt’s leading scorer with 14 points and 9 rebounds.

The Bulldogs’ hot shooting cooled off as the game went on, and the Commodores took advantage of the opportunity and seized back the lead. At one point, Vanderbilt went on a 15-0 run to turn an 8-point deficit into a 26-19 advantage with 4:42 to go in the first half, which included back-to-back threes from fifth-year Emmanuel Ansong.

Most of the offense in the half came from three-point shots. Vanderbilt shot 7-25 (28%) from behind the arc which made up 74% of the Commodores’ field goal attempts. Notably, however, junior Myles Stute struggled, going 1-8 on the night. Stute came into the game shooting an SEC-high 51% from three on the season.

“We’re a three-point shooting team,” Stackhouse said. “We have an opportunity, if we make the shots we’re capable of, we probably blow this game open. But the fact that we didn’t, we had to grind and work the game more than we wanted to.”

Alabama A&M was able to go on a 6-0 run to close the first half and shrink Vanderbilt’s lead to 34-28.

Another scoring drought for the Commodores to start the second half allowed the Bulldogs to come back and tie the game at 37. Furthermore, a combination of untimely turnovers and a lack of defensive focus for Vanderbilt helped Alabama A&M build a five-point lead midway through the second half.

Vanderbilt significantly outrebounded Alabama A&M (43-28) in the game but was largely unable to take advantage of second-chance opportunities enough to keep the Bulldogs at distance due to being outshot from the field (45%-39%). To keep the Commodores in the game, Manjon knocked in two jumpshots, a layup in transition and a couple of free throws over five possessions, which knotted the game at 54 apiece with 7:16 left. 

Junior Tyrin Lawrence and Robbins each then added a bucket and two free throws to combat the Bulldogs’ three made shots in a row with 3 minutes remaining in the contest.

Wright had a mostly quiet night until the last minute of the game, where he hit a crucial three with 42 seconds left, got a steal on the next defensive possession and knocked down free throws to put the game out of hand. Robbins finished out the game with another steal and hit a pair at the line to give Vanderbilt the 70-62 win.

Vanderbilt improves to 6-6 on the season and will close out nonconference play at home on Dec. 30 at 6 p.m. CST against Southeastern Louisiana.