Memorial Minutes: Time to flip the page

The Commodores went 5-8 in nonconference play, but will look to change the narrative and find success in SEC play.
Tyrin Lawrence dunks during their game against Boston College, as photographed on Nov. 29, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)
Tyrin Lawrence dunks during their game against Boston College, as photographed on Nov. 29, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)
Josh Rehders

Vanderbilt was arguably an NCAA Tournament-caliber team in the 2022-23 season after making it to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, beating No. 6 Tennessee and going 11-7 in the SEC. The Commodores’ main knock on their resume was that they suffered six nonconference losses, including defeats to Southern Mississippi and Grambling State. 

This year was going to be different. The Commodores would look to easily get close to running the table in SEC play and go into 2024 as an NCAA Tournament hopeful. Unfortunately for Vanderbilt fans, the hopes of an NCAA March Madness run dwindled right when the season began. The Commodores were ranked 69th in the country entering their season opener against No. 315 Presbyterian. Vanderbilt’s shocking loss to Presbyterian was the beginning of what would be the most underwhelming nonconference showing under the tutelage of head coach Jerry Stackhouse. 

“When in Rome, do what the Romans do,” Stackhouse said at SEC Media Day on Oct. 18. “We will try to beat the hell out of everybody in our early nonconference games.”

The Commodores did the antithesis of what Stackhouse envisioned and won just five games in nonconference play. Stackhouse intentionally gave Vanderbilt a less challenging nonconference schedule this year than it did in previous seasons. The Commodores still managed to go 5-8 in their nonconference slate and won just over 38% of their games. As Vanderbilt faces a myriad of challenges with only SEC games in front of them, they sit at 203rd in the country, according to KenPom. Vanderbilt has slipped 134 spots in the KenPom rankings since Nov. 6.

Before diving deep into what lies ahead for the Commodores, let’s look at all the good, ugly and mediocre from Vanderbilt’s play across the past four games. Since our last Memorial Minutes, Vanderbilt has gone 1-3.  

Inconsistency from the 3-point line

Following a 73-60 loss to San Francisco on Dec. 6, the Commodores had ten days to recuperate before heading to Fort Worth, Texas to face off against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in a neutral-site showdown in the USLBM Coast-to-Coast Challenge. Texas Tech got off to a 9-0 lead and it never looked back. Vanderbilt was outplayed in all facets of the game, losing by a whopping 22 points. The Commodores shot 35.6% from the field, while the Red Raiders shot 49.1% from the field. The biggest statistic that plagued the Commodores was their 3-point percentage: 20%. Ezra Manjon and Tyrin Lawrence combined for 14 points and 31.5% from the field. Lawrence — Vanderbilt’s major re-signing from the offseason — made just one of his six 3-point attempts. The Commodores looked to avenge their two-game losing streak three days later with a matchup against Western Carolina.

Western Carolina may have been 9-2, but Vanderbilt was favored to end the night victorious. Things did not go as planned as Vonterius Woolbright made a game-sealing layup with less than two seconds left in regulation to put the Catamounts ahead of Vanderbilt 63-62. Western Carolina may have drawn up a nice play to win the game, but Vanderbilt gave the game to its opponent. Following a dreadful night from beyond the arc against Texas Tech, the Commodores continued to struggle to see the net from deep and made just 7% (1-14) of its 3-point attempts against Western Carolina. Vanderbilt showed signs of strength though as it had 7 turnovers to Western Carolina’s 13 turnovers.

Through 11 games, Vanderbilt had yet to play up to its potential. The Commodores sat at 4-7 and were in desperate need of breaking their three-game losing streak. To do that, Vanderbilt would need to go on the road. and defeat the Memphis Tigers as 16.5 underdogs behind the leadership of a veteran. Insert Manjon.

Manjon mojo

Ezra Manjon goes for a lay-up, as photographed on Dec. 2, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu) (Ophelia Lu)

The Commodores looked like they were going to silence their critics and pull off a much-needed upset once freshman Isaiah West made a layup with 8:21 remaining in the game to put Vanderbilt up 62-54 against Memphis. 

The Tigers clawed back and went on a 12-0 run that included an emphatic alley-oop from Malcolm Dandridge and was finished by a pair of made free throws from David Jones with 4:24 remaining in the game. Memphis never surrendered its lead afterward, but the Commodores could have changed that narrative if a better play call was drawn up down the stretch.

With three seconds remaining, Vanderbilt trailed 77-75 and had the ball on the sideline. Jason Rivera-Torres inbounded the ball to Tasos Kamateros, who then pitched the ball to Manjon. Manjon launched a deep 3-ball that missed off the front iron. 

Manjon may have been unsuccessful in his late-game 3-point effort, but he proved that he can command an SEC offense. Vanderbilt found its identity in the Memphis game, regardless of the result. Behind the leadership of Manjon, the Commodores proved that they have the roster and capability to win quadrant 1 games. 

Manjon built off his performance in the Memphis game and scored 23 points in Vanderbilt’s 69-53 win over the Ivy League’s Dartmouth. On the other end, Dartmouth went 22.7% from the 3-point line.

“I’ve got teammates that trust me to make plays,” Manjon said. “The last couple of games, we’ve felt that we’ve taken big strides on the defensive end. It’s been showing. We’ve been right there and things are starting to come together on that end.”

Vanderbilt may have lost its most nonconference games in a season since the turn of the century, but the Commodores are not done fighting. Vanderbilt will need to build off its performances against Memphis and Dartmouth to stay in its winning ways during SEC play.

The path ahead

Jordan Williams drives for a layup against San Francisco, as photographed on Dec. 6, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu) (Ophelia Lu)

Vanderbilt will open its 2024 slate of conference games on Jan. 6 with a clash against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Vanderbilt last played Alabama on Jan. 31, 2023 and lost by 57 points. Vanderbilt will hope to get off on the right track and defeat the Mark Sears-led Alabama offense.  Sears averages a team-high 19.3 points per game and scored 35 points against No. 1 Purdue. Vanderbilt will need to limit Sears in the open court and force him to take low-percentage shots if it hopes to have any chance of winning on Saturday. 

Following their matchup with Alabama, the Commodores will go on the road to face off LSU on Jan. 9. The Tigers disappointingly lost their second game of the season, falling to Nicholls State of the Southland conference. LSU has beaten only one Power Five team (Wake Forest) and is led by Vanderbilt alumnus Jordan Wright, who averages a team-best 14.6 points per game. Vanderbilt will need to limit its turnovers, improve its free-throw percentage and continue to dominate in the rebounds department if it hopes to have any chance of competing in the SEC.

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About the Contributors
Andrew Wilf, Sports Editor
Andrew Wilf (’24) is Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He is from Livingston, N.J., and is majoring in history and minoring in business. He joined the sports staff his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Assistant Sports Editor and Deputy Sports Editor. Beyond writing for The Hustler, he is also the host of Anchor Analysis, Commodore Clash and Live From West End. In his free time, Andrew enjoys watching the NFL and playing golf. He can be reached at [email protected].
Ophelia Lu, Deputy Photography Director
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].
Josh Rehders, Photography Director
Josh Rehders ('24) is from Houston and is studying computer science in the School of Engineering. When he is not shooting for The Hustler, Vanderbilt Athletics or freelancing, he enjoys finding new music and good food. He can be reached at [email protected].
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