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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.

Vanderbilt set to face UAB in NIT quarterfinals for final home game of season

The Commodores will take on the Blazers at Memorial Gymnasium in the NIT quarterfinals.
Tyrin+Lawrence+dunks+on+Michigans+Jace+Howard+in+the+NIT+on+March+18%2C+2023+%28Vanderbilt+Athletics%29.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Tyrin Lawrence dunks on Michigan’s Jace Howard in the NIT on March 18, 2023 (Vanderbilt Athletics).

After a season of Memorial Magic, the Vanderbilt Commodores (22-14, 11-7) will take on the UAB Blazers (27-9, 14-6) in their final game inside Memorial Gymnasium this season. The teams will face off on Wednesday, March 22, at 6 p.m. CDT. The Commodores will look to advance past the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament after falling just short against Xavier last season. 

Vanderbilt is fresh off the heels of a nail-biting victory over Michigan in the second round of the NIT. The team overcame an eight-point disadvantage in the final minute thanks to heroic efforts from Ezra Manjon and Tyrin Lawrence. 

The Commodores’ first two home games against Yale and the Wolverines came during the university’s spring break, when students were away. 

That won’t be the case on Wednesday. 

The environment inside Memorial Gymnasium through the first few months of 2023 has been, in a word, raucous. 

Perhaps this energy was most notable in the Commodore’s win over Arkansas. The fans quickly got into the game after Anthony Black stepped over Quentin Millora-Brown while the big man was down on the court. Boos rained down from the student section every time Black touched the ball in the second half. 

Or maybe it was during after upset victory over in-state rival Tennessee, when fans stormed the court after Lawrence’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

Or, was it during the Auburn game, when the student section went back-and-forth with visiting Tigers fans, ultimately getting the last laugh as Manjon banked in a game-winning floater to send three-quarters of the gym into a frenzy? 

Maybe, just maybe, it will come inside Memorial Gym on Wednesday night as the Black and Gold faithful attempt to will their Commodores to Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the NIT Semifinals. 

That’s enough reminiscing, though. Let’s look ahead to the upcoming quarterfinals duel between Vanderbilt and UAB. 

A budding backcourt

It’s no secret that the guard tandem of Lawrence and Manjon has been Vanderbilt’s biggest asset during March. The Commodores will need both of them to continue to step up.

 From the start of the season, it was clear that Lawrence’s game had taken a massive step forward. His efficiency from the field, 3-point range and the charity stripe have all shot up. Still, throughout much of the regular season, he had his ups and downs. A 20-point performance would be followed by a single-digit outing just days later. 

Since star center Liam Robbins suffered a season-ending injury against Kentucky, it’s been all gas, no breaks for Lawrence. In those seven games, Lawrence is averaging 20.5 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 48% from behind the arc. 

Manjon’s growth throughout the season has been just as invaluable as Lawrence’s. The big question was always whether the scrappy guard could replace Scotty Pippen Jr. as the team’s facilitator. Consider the question completely answered: Manjon has not only lived up to expectations but exceeded them.

Manjon runs the offense as though it’s a well-oiled machine. As though he’s an extension of Stackhouse on the court. As though the other nine players on the court are just X’s and O’s on his head coach’s whiteboard, and he’s the dry-erase marker making everything work perfectly. 

Throughout the Commodores’ last 14 games — of which they’ve won 12 — Manjon is averaging 13 points and 4.8 assists. Not to mention that he’s added the three-ball, a shot that he previously failed to knock down with regularity, if it all, to his arsenal. Dating back to the start of the SEC tournament, Manjon is a perfect 6-of-6 from downtown. 

The pair will look to carry their momentum and confidence through Wednesday evenings game and keep the Commodore’s NIT championship aspirations alive. 

Breaking down the Blazers

It’s no secret that Vanderbilt is missing Robbins’s inside presence. The Commodores have struggled mightily on the glass since he went down. In those seven games, they’ve been outrebounded by an average of 40-30. They’ve struggled immensely in not only crashing the offensive glass but also securing defensive boards. 

UAB ranks No. 8 in the nation, per KenPom, in offensive rebounds percentage at 36%. Vanderbilt has struggled to contain teams with similar profiles throughout its Robbins-less stretch. 

Kentucky, the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the nation, snagged 18 offensive boards against the Commodores in Rupp Arena. The Wildcats pulled down an astonishing 21 offensive rebounds when the teams played again in the SEC tournament. 

Even Michigan, ranked outside of the top-250 offensive rebounding teams, crashed the offensive glass for 10 rebounds of its own.

It’ll take a decisive strategy from Stackhouse to combat this disadvantage. While it’s unlikely that the Commodores will be able to eliminate the threat, they can certainly try to limit it. 

In terms of players to watch, look no further than UAB’s leading scorer, Jordan Walker. The 5’11” point guard has an innate ability to score, averaging 22.6 points on the season (No. 4 in Division I). Walker scores efficiently, too, as he shoots an even 39% from downtown. 

Affectionately known as “Jelly” by many, Walker has years of experience playing at the collegiate level. He spent a year at Seton Hall before transferring to Tulane and sitting out a year while he waited for eligibility. He then spent two years playing for the Green Wave before taking his talents to UAB. 

Manjon, who often guards opposing team’s best guards, will likely face the daunting task of slowing Walker down. Many have seen Manjon use his dazzling speed to get downhill to the rim, but what many don’t notice is that his lateral quickness might be even better. This skill favors him not just on offense but also on defense, as he can shuffle his feet at rapid rates to go over screens and keep up with whoever he guards.

The matchup between UAB and Vanderbiilt — two hungry teams — projects to be an exciting one. The opponents will tip off inside Memorial Gym on Wednesday, March 22, at 6 p.m. CDT. 

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About the Contributor
Aiden Rutman, Senior Staff Writer
Aiden Rutman (‘25) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in communication studies. He formerly produced The Hustler’s sports podcast, Live from West End. In addition to writing and podcasting, Aiden is an avid New York sports fan, and he loves playing sports, spending time outdoors and trying new foods. You can reach him at [email protected].
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