The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

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.

Vanderbilt hopes to start a deep SEC Tournament run with win against LSU

The Commodores’ quest for an NCAA Tournament berth runs through Nashville and begins with revenge.
Jordan+Wright+navigates+the+court+against+Auburn+on+Feb.+18%2C+2023.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FNikita+Rohila%29
Nikita Rohila
Jordan Wright navigates the court against Auburn on Feb. 18, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)

A month ago, it seemed like the Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball season was over. Losing by 57 points — the third largest loss in program history — isn’t something a team just comes back from. More than just the season, it appeared that 2023 could mark the close of the Stackhouse era itself.

Vanderbilt came back home a few days later to beat Ole Miss, but something still felt off. The students were apathetic. The fan base was restless. Tennessee lay on the horizon like an executioner getting ready to swing the axe and end the life of the program.

Then, miraculously, the Commodores won.  And they kept winning. Since the Alabama loss, Vanderbilt has won eight of its nine games. The one loss: 84-77 to LSU.

As fate would have it, the Tigers are Vanderbilt’s first matchup in a do-or-die SEC Tournament.

A win keeps the Commodores’ NCAA Tournament hopes alive. A loss relegates them to the NIT for yet another season.

So what went wrong for Vanderbilt the last time these two teams played? One answer is free throws. The Commodores shot 10% below their season average in the loss by going a cumulative 14-for-23. Vanderbilt has to find a way to get to the line and convert in the absence of Liam Robbins.

The Robbins’ injury adds a new, and perhaps deadly, dimension to the rematch: paint presence. In its one full game without Robbins, Vanderbilt was out-rebounded 45-24 by a Mississippi State team that averages just 0.3 more rebounds per game than the Commodores. Stackhouse and Co. cannot afford for Jordan Wright to be the team’s leading rebounder. Bigs like Quentin Millora-Brown and — off the bench — Malik Dia, Lee Dort and Colin Smith are going to have to step up and fill the seven-foot void.

The good news is that LSU is one of the three worst rebounding teams in the SEC. The bad news is that the paint is about more than rebounding, and LSU has a 6’10 senior in KJ Williams that gave the Commodore defense nightmares even with Robbins.

In the previous matchup, Williams tied his season high with 35 points on top of 10 rebounds and 5 three-pointers. Though not as freakish, his 18 points and 8 rebounds last night against Georgia prove that he hasn’t lost his step. Stopping Williams has to be the team’s top defensive priority if it wants to advance past the second round.

The playbook for overcoming the rebound disadvantage might be the same one employed against Mississippi State: shoot a lot of threes, and make them at a high percentage. Vanderbilt got off 25 attempts for 12 makes in the win against the Bulldogs. Similar shooting splits could be enough to overcome an LSU offense that is bottom-three in the conference.

Getting open looks from the perimeter shouldn’t be an impossible task against the Tigers. LSU ranks below SEC average in opponent points-per-game and is second-to-last in opponent three-point percentage. Wright, Myles Stute and Trey Thomas are going to get plenty of looks: The game will hinge on whether they can knock them down.

There’s a chance Vanderbilt gets steamrolled on the glass and loses another heartbreaker to LSU. There’s also a chance that a barrage of Commodore threes creates an early lead from which the Tigers never recover. What’s certain is that Vanderbilt won’t take the matchup for granted this time.

There’s an argument to be made that — after winning five straight — the Commodores felt unbeatable on Feb. 22 when they went to Baton Rouge. After all, the Tigers had lost 14 straight games heading into the matchup. How could Vanderbilt, with all of its positive momentum, possibly lose to a team winless in the 2023 calendar year?

Having walked out with a loss, the Commodores learned their lesson. There are no nights off in the SEC. With Robbins and his accolades — SEC Defensive Player of the Year, All-SEC First Team and All-SEC Defensive First Team — gone, that’s never been more true than right now.

Stackhouse knows this. The team knows this. They know what’s at stake.

LSU will either be remembered as the regular season loss that made Vanderbilt better or the postseason defeat that ended its historic run. It’s up to the players and the coaches to decide which story is written.

Vanderbilt will tip off against LSU tonight in Bridgestone Arena at 8:30 p.m. CST.

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About the Contributors
Jayce Pollard
Jayce Pollard, Non-revenue Sports Specialist
Jayce Pollard (‘25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in public policy and economics and minoring in data science and Spanish. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can catch Jayce trying to learn the rules of soccer, hating on the Arkansas Razorbacks and being chronically on Twitter. 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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