Vanderbilt moves one step closer to NCAA Tournament, gets revenge win against LSU, 77-68

The Commodores took care of business in their opening round win against LSU and will take on Kentucky tomorrow night in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.


Nikita Rohila

Ezra Manjon surveys the floor against LSU at the SEC Tournament on March 9, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)

Bryce Smith, Sports Editor

Vanderbilt (19-13) kicked off SEC Tournament action at Bridgestone Arena with a matchup against No. 14-seeded LSU (14-19) on Thursday night. The Commodores led wire-to-wire, avenging a February loss to the Tigers in Baton Rouge with a 77-68 victory. With the win, Vanderbilt will advance to the SEC Tournament quarterfinals where the teem will meet No. 3 seed Kentucky. 

“Thought that was a great game tonight,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said afterward the game. “Our guys came out and set the tone early. We were physical and we moved the ball.”

The Commodores got off to a hot start behind a pseudo-home crowd just down Broadway shortly away from campus. Tyrin Lawrence got things started for Vanderbilt with a driving layup to give the Commodores a lead they would never relinquish. Vanderbilt blocked two LSU attempts on the other end, which led to an Ezra Manjon transition bucket to go up 4-0. 

Jordan Wright defends against LSU at the SEC Tournament on March 9, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)
Jordan Wright defends against LSU at the SEC Tournament on March 9, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)

“Felt like we were at home tonight,” Jordan Wright said of the atmosphere inside Bridgestone. “The gym was loud, we had a lot of fans here and the students were great. It’s great having it back in Nashville.”

Things slowed until the 15:12 mark when Colin Smith rattled in a three and then converted a layup to give Vanderbilt an 11-5 advantage. LSU clawed its way back in — mostly on the back of KJ Williams — to make it a 13-9 score before Paul Lewis nailed the first of his two triples in the opening 20 minutes to give Vanderbilt a 16-9 lead with 11:24 to play. 

Despite more resistance from Williams, the Commodores continued to carve out a lead thanks to a pair of buckets from Tyrin Lawrence and another Lewis three-ball. A top-of-the-key three from Lawrence gave Vanderbilt a 28-14 lead with 7:47 remaining, prompting a timeout from LSU head coach Matt McMahon. 

With the Black and Gold crowd on full tilt, the Tigers mounded a 6-0 run to chip into the lead at 28-22. The two sides traded buckets in a slow final five minutes of the opening frame with Vanderbilt holding on to a 6-point lead. 

A Cam Hayes missed three with six seconds to go led to a Vanderbilt run out and Lawrence — who led the Commodores with 13 first-half points on 4-5 shooting – drew contact to get to the charity stripe. The junior knocked down 2-for-2 at the line to give Vanderbilt an eight-point lead at the break, 37-32. 

“Tyrin was impressive coming downhill. I thought he was really good defensively too. He was a key matchup against [Adam] Miller and Miller was 0-9, 0-6 from 3. He’s special when he’s able to get downhill and be focused.” Stackhouse said of Lawrence.

KJ Williams — once again a consistent thorn in the Commodores’ side after scoring 35 points in the two teams’ first meeting — promptly opened the half on a 7-0 personal run to narrow the Tigers’ deficit to 37-36. Williams finished 26 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Tigers. 

“We did change our match up on him a little bit,” Stackhouse said of his team’s adjustment. “We used more of our 4-man on him…He’s a tough cover; guy like that posts up on the block…He had a great season this year for his team.”

Manjon responded with back-to-back buckets for Vanderbilt, the first a mid-range floater and the second a corner three to increase the lead to 42-36. Lawrence added to the fireworks with an athletic catch at mid-court that turned into a free dunk at the tin. 

Ezra Manjon goes for a layup against LSU at the SEC Tournament on March 9, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)
Ezra Manjon goes for a layup against LSU at the SEC Tournament on March 9, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)

A nifty crossover move led to an easy jumper for Manjon and a Myles Stute wing three made it a 12-0 Vanderbilt run to make the score 49-36 at the 14:01 mark. 

Williams banked in a three to end the drought for the Tigers, but Lawrence quickly responded with a bucket and foul on the other end to make it a 52-39 game.  

The teams traded points, mostly at the free-throw line, until a Williams layup in the lane and Trae Hannibal and-one off a Paul Lewis turnover cut the LSU deficit to 56-47.

Lewis — who added a career-high 11 points off the bench — and fellow freshman Colin Smith nailed consecutive shots to bring the Commodore lead back to 13 at 60-47. 

Wright was called for a foul at the 7:15 mark, but it was overturned and called a hook-and-hold on LSU. Wright knocked down both free throws from the technical foul, giving him a double-double (15 points, 15 rebounds) on the night. 

“He’s capable of doing that,” Stackhouse added on Wright’s double-double. “He’s a guy who’s going to find a way to make things happen and he’s been doing that in a positive way the last 4-5 games.”

The Commodores continued to put the press on over the next few minutes with terrific layups from Manjon and Wright to extend a 69-55 advantage. Despite Williams and Hayes’ best efforts, it seemed as if the Tigers were left for dead from that point on as Vanderbilt maintained a double-digit lead. 

LSU never really threatened in the game’s final five minutes but gave Vanderbilt some late trouble with a desperate full-court press in the last minute. The Tigers cut the lead to as few as seven points after two Trae Hannibal free throws with 44.5 seconds remaining to make it 75-68. Lawrence, who was the best player on the floor all night, fittingly ended the Tigers’ hopes with an emphatic block at the 27-second mark. The junior was subsequently fouled and hit 1-2 from the line to make the final tally 77-68. 

Vanderbilt shot 46.4% from the field and was led by Wright, Lawrence (22 points) and Manjon (17 points). The Commodores managed 34 points in the paint as well. LSU was held to just 33% shooting on 23-69. 

The Commodores will advance to the SEC quarterfinals to face off against No. 3 seed Kentucky at approximately 8:30 p.m. CST on March 10. Vanderbilt and Kentucky split the season series one game a piece. 

“It’s going to be a battle of competitors,” Stackhouse said on Kentucky. “Guys gotta come out and perform; it’s not going to be any tricks…Gotta come out and make plays and make shots.”