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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.

‘They had us buried, but we back alive’: Manjon’s dramatic buzzer-beater extends Vanderbilt’s improbable February run

Vanderbilt won its fifth straight on Saturday night and now has a legitimate path to the postseason.
Ezra+Manjon+dribbles+during+a+67-65+win+over+Auburn+on+Feb.+18%2C+2023+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FNikita+Rohila%29.
Nikita Rohila
Ezra Manjon dribbles during a 67-65 win over Auburn on Feb. 18, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila).

Nearly three weeks ago, I penned my most critical article of the Jerry Stackhouse era after the Commodores 57-point loss to now-No. 1 Alabama. 

Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball has yet to lose since that Jan. 31 date in Tuscaloosa. 

“They had us buried, but we back alive.” Stackhouse said after his team’s fifth straight, this one over Auburn, 67-65.

Back alive, indeed. 

Ezra Manjon’s heroics in front of a packed crowd at Memorial Gym on Saturday night provided another dramatic turn for what has become a dramatic February — and season — for the Black and Gold. 

“I was trying to get downhill,” Manjon remarked on the final play. “I got past my man — I’m always looking at the second man — he was kind of sticking to Liam [Robbins], he came a little late. I knew I had that layup.”

The second game-winner on the final play in as many home games, Stackhouse credited former Commodore assistant coach Ed Conroy for the design. 

“That’s one from Ed Conroy,” Stackhouse said of the Manjon-game winner. “We’ve had some great coaches here. We listen to all of our guys.”

Left for dead at 10-12 after the Alabama loss, Stackhouse’s crew has come storming back to 15-12, Vanderbilt’s longest SEC winning streak since February 2015. Quadrant 1 victories over Tennessee, Florida and, now, Auburn have put the Commodores squarely in the thick of things when it comes to the NCAA Tournament bubble. The five-game win streak has also vaulted Vanderbilt into fifth place in the SEC, just one game back of No. 10 Tennessee. 

Eleven days after a magical win over the Tennessee team that sparked Vanderbilt’s improbable February run, there was some more Memorial pixie dust left in the rafters on Saturday night. For the second home game in a row, Memorial Magic was in full effect as Manjon nailed an acrobatic layup for the win with just 0.8 seconds to go. 

Once again, Vanderbilt needed that extra lift as it vanquished another top-4 foe in the SEC. Let’s take a look back at the Commodores’ latest win over Auburn and what it means for their NCAA Tournament chances. 

Forged through fire  

Early in Stackhouse’s tenure, he had to teach his team how to win. Inheriting a program that had gone winless in the SEC a year before his arrival made that a necessary, if seemingly elementary, task. 

Tyrin Lawrence attempts a layup during a 67-65 win over Auburn on Feb. 18, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu).
Tyrin Lawrence attempts a layup during a 67-65 win over Auburn on Feb. 18, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu). (Ophelia Lu)

Last season, those lessons finally began to pay off as Vanderbilt played its best basketball down the stretch, making a run to the NIT quarterfinals

“When you’re building like we’re building, you remember those tough moments. You remember those tough stretches of growth and disappointment that we had early on,” Stackhouse said after last year’s season-ending loss to Xavier. “We know that we don’t want to go back to those.”

It took a couple of months for those memories to kick in for this Commodore squad, but once again Stackhouse has his team playing their best basketball of the season in February. 

The beauty of this squad, though, is the early lumps they endured — including November home losses to Southern Miss and Grambling, as well as the Alabama loss that have led to this point. 

Southern Miss and Grambling, by the way, both have inside tracks to March Madness sitting at first and second place in their conferences, respectively. Alabama might be the No. 1 overall seed come Selection Sunday. 

“We had a really tough schedule at the beginning of the year,” Saturday’s hero, Manjon, said after the Auburn win. “Went through a lot of ups and downs and we weathered a lot of storms. It shows growth in our games.” 

Winning on defense 

Across its five-game win streak, Vanderbilt hasn’t just learned to win; they’ve mastered it.

On Friday, I remarked that Auburn profiled similarly to Arkansas, a team Vanderbilt hung 97 on, giving the Commodores a prime matchup to flex their top-35 offense (KenPom).

On Saturday, the Commodores found a different way to win — a sign of a truly formidable squad. After outgunning Florida and South Carolina on the offensive end in their last two victories, the Commodores beat Bruce Pearl’s Tigers on the defensive end of the floor. In a sloppy, grind-it-out game that favors Auburn’s play style, Vanderbilt came out the victor. 

“Thought both teams competed really, really hard,” Stackhouse said. “Wasn’t the prettiest game at times. Somebody had to win, and I was glad it was us. It was good to see that ball go through there at the end there.” 

Manjon was especially impressive in his assignment on Wendell Green Jr., Auburn’s lead guard. The Tiger junior — who leads Auburn in scoring, assists and steals — finished the game with just 6 points on 2-of-14 shooting.

Ezra Manjon shoots a floater during a 67-65 win over Auburn on Feb. 18, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila).
Ezra Manjon shoots a floater during a 67-65 win over Auburn on Feb. 18, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila).

“Ezra was just unbelievable,” Stackhouse said of Manjon. “I don’t think I’ve seen anybody guard Wendell Green Jr. as well as he did. Wendell Green Jr. is a hell of a player.”

On offense, the Commodores shot just 35.7% (20-56) from the floor and scored their fewest points since their Tennessee win on Feb. 8. Getting to the free throw line — and converting — and hitting 7 of 18 shots from the three-point line gave Vanderbilt just enough to get over the hump. Liam Robbins, who led Vanderbilt with 24 points and 12 rebounds, knocked down 17 of his 20 attempts at the free throw line. 

“They did some things to us,” Stackhouse said of Auburn’s defense. “We played a good team, they scouted us well and took some things away, but we did enough. I thought Liam really established himself after a slow start in the first half; he got to the line and converted his free throws. To go there and make 17 out of 20 free throws was big for us.”

Vanderbilt featured a balanced scoring attack outside of Robbins with five players scoring six or more points. Manjon had five assists and Jordan Wright added seven rebounds. 

Bubble watch

To those that follow the program closely, the Commodores have been charging toward the NCAA Tournament bubble for the last week. National media — and the advanced computer metrics — didn’t necessarily see it that way though. 

That is, until last night. 

Vanderbilt’s win over Auburn marked the third quadrant 1 win in as many tries and its fourth overall on the season. Now sitting at 4-7 in Q1 on the season, the Commodores have begun to accumulate the high-quality wins necessary to make a legitimate bubble push. Those figures caught the eye of bracketology pundits as Stackhouse’s crew has begun to make national noise. The Commodores have been included in the “Last Four Out” of at least one bracketologist’s prediction as of Sunday. 

In terms of the computer rankings, Vanderbilt still has some work to do to start feeling good about its NCAA Tournament chances. As of print, the Commodores sit at No. 87 on KenPom and No. 89 in the NET. Both those numbers will need to rise into at least the 70s if Vanderbilt wants to go dancing. 

With that said, the Commodores have done all they can do to get there over the past couple of weeks, and the results-based metrics reflect that. Vanderbilt ranks No. 46 in the RPI, No. 51 in the KPI and No. 63 on ESPN’s Strength of Record. 

Combined with the four Q1 wins Vanderbilt has racked up, you can begin to squint and see a team that is squarely on the bubble. Of teams ranked 75-100 in the NET, only Wisconsin has more Q1 wins, and Vanderbilt has three in the last week and a half. That will surely matter to the selection committee. 

“It’s a great opportunity for us right now, just to believe and do something special,” Stackhouse said after the Tennessee win. “A win like this could spur us on — now we gotta validate it.” 

His Commodores have done so to the tune of five straight wins. This week they will look to continue that run with a trip to LSU (12-15, 1-13) and a home date with the Colin Castelton-less Florida Gators (14-13, 7-7). Both games are winnable, but as February winds down and we race towards March, it’s about taking things one game at a time on this impeccable run. 

For now, the Commodores are back alive. 

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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].    
Ophelia Lu
Ophelia Lu, Deputy Photography Editor
Ophelia Lu (’26) is from Los Angeles and is double majoring in biomedical and electrical engineering in the School of Engineering. She previously served as a staff photographer. When not covering events and sports games for The Hustler, you can find her listening to a lot of music, studying at Starbucks or lying on Alumni lawn. She 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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