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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.

‘It rallied us’: Manjon’s ejection sparks in-game, potentially season-saving turnaround

Vanderbilt’s spirited second half effort on Saturday afternoon signaled a possible major shift from the Commodores.
Nikita Rohila
Vanderbilt regroups on January 14, 2023 against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Memorial Gymasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia).

“It rallied us,” Jerry Stackhouse said of his team’s performance after Ezra Manjon’s first-half ejection. “Our guys came together and competed.”

Competed to the tune of 63 second-half points, that is. After the emotion-filled first half that included multiple skirmishes, four technical fouls and eight straight Arkansas free throws, Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball responded by coming out of the locker room with its best performance of the season — and maybe the Stackhouse era. 

Vanderbilt outscored the Razorbacks 62-43 in the second half and shot 18-of-26 (69.2%) from the field and 6-of-9 (66.7%) from three-point range. The Commodores led from the 12:40 mark on. 

A noticeable shift 

The Commodores came out of the locker room looking like a different team — both in terms of execution but also mental fortitude. Taking the form of its notoriously feisty head coach, Vanderbilt refused to back down from a fight when prodded by Arkansas. 

On the court, Stackhouse’s halftime adjustments manifested in a few different ways. 

First, Vanderbilt’s aforementioned shooting splits improved significantly in the second stanza. A large part of that was the Commodores’ focus on taking analytically efficient shots — that is, threes and shots around the rim — that stretched the normally sturdy Razorback defense. In the second half, Vanderbilt got 18 points via the long ball and 22 points in the paint. The Commodores also got to the line a whopping 23 times and converted 21 of those chances to force Arkansas into foul trouble. If you’re counting at home, 61 of Vanderbilt’s 63 second-half points came via the long ball, in the paint or at the free throw line. 

Secondly, the defensive intensity, specifically on Arkansas freshman Anthony Black, ratcheted way up. Stackhouse stuck Jordan Wright on Black, who scored just three points in the second half while battling boo’s raining on him from the student section every time he touched the ball. 

Vanderbilt was lifted by a noisy home crowd on January 14, 2023 at Memorial Gymasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia).
Vanderbilt was lifted by a noisy home crowd on Jan. 14, 2023, at Memorial Gymnasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia)

“We changed our defensive coverage,” Wright said after the game. “It was a great adjustment by Coach to change that. We decided to put more pressure on him — he was a little too comfortable in the first half — and I think, as the game wore on, he got tired.”

Last, but not least, Vanderbilt got Liam Robbins back in the second half after he played less than a minute in the first half due to foul trouble. Robbins wasted no time acclimating himself into the game, converting an and-one just 18 seconds into the half. 

Veteran presence 

Robbins, Wright and Stackhouse all continuously credited the veteran leadership of the team in the postgame press conference. Without fellow senior Ezra Manjon, Robbins and Wright turned in valiant performances to lift the Commodores both emotionally and execution-wise in this game. 

Robbins played 18 of 20 minutes in the second half, unusual for a player of his size, and added 15 points, 3 blocks and 3 rebounds in the final 20. The big man knocked down 5-of-5 attempts at the free throw line as well and elicited just one personal foul in the second half. Makhi Mitchell, Makhel Mitchell and Kamani Johnson, Robbins’ defensive assignments, combined for just 10 points in the second half. 

“We’re a well coached team,” Robbins added after the game. “I’ll say it again and again: we’re well coached. We knew if we keep doing what we’re supposed to do — what we’re coached to do — we’d come out with a win.” 

Wright, who oftentime has played the role of emotional leader over the past few seasons, lived up to that billing on Saturday. In addition to locking up Black, he scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half and looked swift and deliberate getting to his spots in a 5-of-7 shooting display. He too was perfect from the charity stripe, nailing 4-of-4 attempts. 

What it means

According to KenPom, Vanderbilt got its best win of the Stackhouse era on Saturday afternoon over the then-No. 14 Razorbacks. The win moved the Commodores up nine spots in the national rankings (from No. 97 to No. 88) as of print. 

Tyrin Lawrence finishes a dunk on January 14, 2023 against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Memorial Gymasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia).
Tyrin Lawrence finishes a dunk on January 14, 2023 against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Memorial Gymasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia).

Offensively, Vanderbilt really shined in the advanced analytics department. As part of their effort to take more efficient looks, the Commodores scored a season-high 97 points against Arkansas, the most the Razorbacks have allowed all season. Eric Musselman’s crew came into the contest ranked No. 11 in adjusted defensive efficiency and left as No. 20. 

Vanderbilt, for its part, is now ranked within the top 50 in adjusted offensive efficiency (No. 49) and as the most efficient offense in the conference in league play thus far. The Commodores rank top five in the SEC in effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, offensive rebound percentage, free throw rate and two-point and three-point percentages. The current No. 49 offensive ranking is also the highest of the Stackhouse era. 

Perhaps no player exemplified this efficient style better than Tyrin Lawrence. Lawrence finished with a team-high 22 points against the Razorbacks, including a 2-of-2 effort from deep and a 6-of-8 showing from the line. His offensive rating of 143 was his highest of the season. 

Big picture, Vanderbilt is still 9-8 overall but now back up to .500 in conference play at 2-2. That’s good enough for seventh in the league at the moment — but the Commodores have continued work to do to patch up their shabby non-conference resume. That’ll start with a massive opportunity at home against top-5 ranked Alabama on Tuesday. 

With that said, the Commodores ability to fight back and get over the hump after tough circumstances to earn a win cannot be overstated. After back-to-back close losses, Vanderbilt not only responded from a punch (literally and figuratively) — they let it fuel them into playing their best 20 minutes of basketball of the season. On paper, its their second straight win over Arkansas, a program that has made back-to-back Elite 8s, and first win over a top-15 opponent since 2017. 

“The best teams are player-led teams,” Stackhouse said after the game. “We’ve just got to go out there and execute, and that’s on the older guys.”

If Robbins and Wright can lead this team such that Saturday proves to be the norm rather than the exception, Vanderbilt may have just turned their season around.

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About the Contributors
Bryce Smith
Bryce Smith, Former Sports Editor
Bryce Smith ('23) is majoring in human and organizational development in Peabody College with a minor in business. Bryce previously wrote for SBNation before joining The Hustler. Hailing from Chicago, Bryce is a die-hard Bears and Cubs fan who is also hoping that the Bulls and Blackhawks may one day rekindle their dominance. He can be reached at [email protected].    
Nikita Rohila
Nikita Rohila, Senior Staff Photographer
Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Deputy Social Media Director. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected].
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