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.

Bedlam on Broadway: Vanderbilt ousts Kentucky from SEC Tournament, makes splash on NCAA Tournament bubble

The three-headed monster of Ezra Manjon, Jordan Wright and Tyrin Lawrence carried Vanderbilt to an emotional win over the Wildcats on Friday night.
Jordan Wright drives against Kentucky on March 10, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu).

In an absolute thriller on Broadway, Vanderbilt advanced to the SEC semifinals on Friday night after knocking off No. 3 seed Kentucky, 80-73. The win was the second in 10 days for the Commodores over the Wildcats and kept their growing NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Vanderbilt earned their 20th win of the season — the first time it’s done so since 2015 — and won their fifth quadrant one game in the victory. 

“That was an unbelievable game to be a part of,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said afterwards. “Both teams were battling, a lot of ups and downs in that game. They got off to a quick start. We continued to battle and weather the storm.”

It was a highly entertaining first half as both teams traded punches inside a special atmosphere inside Bridgestone Arena. Kentucky drew first blood with an Oscar Tshiebwe turnaround hook in the lane to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead. 

Vanderbilt responded with a layup from Ezra Manjon and an elbow jumper from Jordan Wright to take their first lead of the game, 4-2. The Wildcats promptly countered with a 12-0 run punctuated by back-to-back threes from Antonio Reeves that forced a Jerry Stackhouse timeout. 

“I don’t think those guys get rattled,” Stackhouse said on his teams early resiliency. “We understand they’re making shots. Plays are part of the game. You’re not really going to lose the game in the first half in this modern era with the three-point shot.”

The Commodores hit right back, however, with an 8-0 run of their own. Wright nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key and Manjon added a corner deep ball as well. 

The game of runs continued, though, as the Wildcats began to impose their will on the glass. Lee Dort picked up two quick fouls as Kentucky jumped out to a 14-4 advantage on the boards and 19-12 lead on the scoreboard. 

A captivating final eight minutes of the opening stanza ensued as Tyrin Lawrence cut into the Commodore deficit with a point-blank three to bring the score to 19-15. Trey Thomas and Kentucky’s Jacob Toppin banged deep balls of their own and Tshweibe muscled in two layups to make it 24-20 Kentucky at the 7:12 mark. 

Freshman Paul Lewis — who had a career-high 11 points in yesterday’s win over LSU — kept Vanderbilt in with a 5-0 spurt and a Tyrin Lawrence layup made it 28-27. 

Kentucky extended a mini 6-0 run to take a 34-27 lead, but Vanderbilt proved to be the story of the first half. 

A picture-perfect possession started a 14-0 run for the Commodores as Lewis swished his second long ball with the shot clock expiring to make it 34-30. 

Wright and Manjon canned buckets to knot the score at 34 all on the next two possessions. Then, Tshweibe was tagged with a flagrant 1 foul after hitting and then elbowing Colin Smith on a rebound attempt. Smith nailed both free throws and Wright knocked down another triple off a gorgeous set to give the Commodores a 39-34 lead at the break. 

Things picked up right where they left off for Vanderbilt in the second half’s opening minutes as the Commodores continued to build momentum. 

Three straight layups gave the Commodores a 45-36 lead, causing Kentucky coach John Calipari to burn a timeout. 

Manjon nearly blew the roof of Bridgestone Arena with a steal in the backcourt once play resumed, but missed an open layup at the rim. Cason Wallace responded for the Wildcats with a tough mid-range jumper to make it 45-38. 

Vanderbilt continued to put the foot on the gas though as layups from Manjon and Quentin Millora-Brown made it a 49-38 advantage. 

In front of a late-night crowd on full tilt, the Commodores and Wildcats traded sensational buckets as Wright canned a three and Chris Livingston flushed a huge jam on the other end. An Antonio Reeves fastbreak layup made it 52-44 Vanderbilt with 14:42 to go. 

But despite continued punches from the Wildcats, Vanderbilt did not back down, maintaining a 7-to-9 point lead. 

After a foul on Tshweibe, Millora-Brown sank two free throws to extend the Commodore lead to 11 at 63-52 with 9:09 left. 

Kentucky gave their best effort over the next two minutes and change, narrowing the deficit to 63-60 and igniting the Big Blue crowd after a pair of Reeves free throws. 

As the game seemingly hung in the balance, Manjon hung in the air and threw in a circus shot from nearly half court as the shot clock hit zero to keep Vanderbilt ahead, 66-60. 

The teams traded free throws as the referees tightened up on both ends before Toppin brought Kentucky back within four at 68-64. 

Vanderbilt continued to trudge ahead with a highly-efficient performance from the line as Manjon and Wright hit three more to make it a 71-64 lead with 3:02. 

But in a game filled with fireworks, the Wildcats weren’t done yet. Reeves stroked a pure three on the other end to make it 71-67 and swing things back in Kentucky’s favor. Manjon and Tshweibe both drew fouls — Tshweibe’s on a very questionable call on Millora-Brown — and each nailed the pair to make it 73-69 with 1:11 to go. 

Tyrin Lawrence saved a desperate Vanderbilt possession with a beautiful mid-range jumper that exhaled the Commodore faithful and gave the Commodores a 75-69 cushion. After an offensive foul on Reeves on the other end, Vanderbilt was within inches of closing out the game when freshman Colin Smith was called for an apparent offensive foul of his own seconds later. 

After a referee review, however, it was determined that Toppin had flopped and Smith was awarded two free throws, of which he made both. With a 77-69 lead in hand, Vanderbilt’s fans began to rise in Bridgestone Arena with 55 seconds to go. 

Toppin, though, canned a massive three-pointer on the other end to bring the Wildcats back within five at 77-72. 

It was too little, too late for Kentucky though as Jordan Wright knocked down two free throws to make it 79-72 with 34 seconds remaining. Tshweibe split a pair at the charity stripe on the other end and Manjon knocked down 1-of-2 to make it 80-73. A missed three from Toppin erupted pandemonium from the Black and Gold crowd as the Commodores escaped with the victory. 

“Turning of the tide,” Wright said afterwards on beating Kentucky. “We hadn’t beat them in [my] first three years. For us to beat them twice in a week, it just shows the growth we’ve had and how we’re progressing as a team and how we’ve come forward.”

For Vanderbilt, it is the second win in as many weeks over blue-blood Kentucky, who played just one game in Nashville. The Commodores hit 10 threes and knocked down 18-of-20 free throws at the line. Ezra Manjon (25 points), Jordan Wright (18 points) and Tyrin Lawrence (18 points) once again led the way for Vanderbilt. 

“It was a lot of fun. More fun was just to see our fans and our excitement. Wasn’t so excited to sit up there and talk to those guys; ain’t none of them picked us. You know what I’m saying?” Stackhouse said of his SEC Network interview after the game.

The win earned the Commodores their 20th of the season for the first time since 2015 and solidified their place on an-ever shrinking NCAA Tournament bubble. 

“We finally were able to get over the hump, excited about the possibility of tomorrow and even more excited about the possibility of getting through tomorrow and getting to Sunday,” Stackhouse added. “We believe in us. We’re going to be us, and we believe in us. That’s all that matters. All the other noise doesn’t matter. We’re not worried about bracketology or anything else but the next game. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”

Vanderbilt advances to the SEC Tournament semifinals where they will take on the No. 2 seeded Texas A&M Aggies at approximately 2:30 p.m. CST.

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About the Contributor
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].    
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