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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 defeats Auburn in a thriller, wins 53-50

Headlined by a standout effort from budding freshman Khamil Pierre, the Commodores got their season back on track.
Payton Ohler
Jordyn Cambridge dribbling against Auburn, as photographed on Jan. 18, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Payton Ohler)

After a devastating 65-63 loss to Missouri last Sunday, the Commodores were eager to get their breakout season back on track. Despite some poor shooting and ugly turnovers, the Commodores did just that in a close 53-50 win over Auburn.

The highly-anticipated matchup got off to a tough start for the Commodores as they struggled to find anything that worked on offense in the first quarter. Guards Jordyn Cambridge and Iyana Moore were consistently forcing shots and making ill-advised passes. Sharpshooter Justine Pissott got some good looks from behind the arc but was unable to convert. Meanwhile, the Auburn offense was similarly shaky but got a 3-pointer from star guard Honesty Scott-Grayson to cap off a 9-0 run that left Vanderbilt with five minutes in the quarter to regain its footing. This Tiger run prompted a timeout from Vanderbilt coach Shea Ralph.

Coach Ralph responded by putting Khamil Pierre into the game, who immediately dominated on both ends of the floor. Pierre’s pick-and-roll game was an instant spark, giving Cambridge far more space to operate. Additionally, her insertion into the middle of the defense tightened up that side of the ball, with Auburn not scoring again for the rest of the quarter and instead coughing up the ball four times. The Commodores trailed 9-6 at the end of the first quarter, with Cambridge’s turnovers being the primary factor holding them back offensively.

The second quarter was a completely different game, as both offenses began to find their rhythm. For the Commodores, Sacha Washington and Pierre asserted their will in the post, with the duo combining for 13 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks in the first half. However, a staggering eight combined turnovers from Cambridge and Moore prevented Vanderbilt from creating any separation on the scoreboard. Additionally, Scott-Grayson was able to penetrate the perimeter defense of the Commodores far too easily. Her extremely inefficient 4-of-15 shooting line held her back somewhat, but she still made her mark on the half with 9 points. The Tigers led 23-22 at the break, leaving everything up for grabs in the second period.

Cambridge started the second half with a flurry, converting two quick buckets to extend Vanderbilt’s lead to four, the highest it would be all game. On the other side, Scott-Grayson began turning her volume into points, reaching 13 points on a 6-of-21 shooting line. With six minutes remaining in the quarter, coach Ralph subbed in Pierre, who once again made an immediate impact. Her strength down low and athleticism on the perimeter were tough for the Tigers to handle, and she ended the quarter with an overall stat line of 11 points and 7 rebounds. 

The third quarter was once again marred by Cambridge turnovers, as she tacked on an additional two, bringing her game total up to six. Meanwhile, the Tigers began dominating the offensive glass, giving themselves six second-chance points. Those two trends canceled out Pierre’s brilliance, and the Tigers held a slim 41-40 edge heading into the final quarter.

The opening minutes of the fourth quarter were marked by good defense and inconsistent offense for the Commodores. Vanderbilt guard Moore began finding her shooting stroke, keeping Vandebilt within striking distance by nailing four consecutive free throws. However, stellar defense and layups from Taylen Collins and JaMya Mingo-Young gave the Tigers a 48-44 lead with 4:31 remaining. The Commodores desperately needed someone to take over the game before it was too late. Thankfully for the West End faithful, up stepped Pierre.

Amidst what was already her best game of the season, the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week took her game to another level when it mattered most. First, she assisted Jordyn Oliver with 3:21 left to cut the Tigers’ lead to 48-47. Then, after a great defensive play by Washington, Pierre tied the game at 48 apiece with 2:47 remaining. Kaitlyn Duhon then gave Auburn the lead with 1:47 remaining. Following a turnover by Pissott, Auburn had a golden opportunity to extend their lead to four. However, Mingo-Young missed an open layup, with Pierre sprinting down the court to grab the rebound and draw a foul.

Pierre proceeded to nail both free throws, knotting the game at 50 apiece with 1:21 remaining. On the next possession, Pierre and Washington combined to play outstanding post defense, holding the Tigers scoreless. After draining the clock, coach Ralph called timeout with 35.6 seconds remaining. Ralph showcased her trust in Pierre, drawing up the play for the star freshman. Pierre executed perfectly, and a brilliant post move netted her an open layup, giving the Commodores a 2-point lead with 30 seconds remaining.

The Tigers proceeded to drain the clock to 10 seconds, before Scott-Grayson tried driving towards the right block towards Pierre. Pierre once again held her ground, forcing a missed shot, but the Tigers swarmed the offensive glass and Collins was fouled as she was securing the ball, giving her two free throws with six seconds remaining.

With the game on the line, Collins missed the first free throw, sending Memorial Gym into a frenzy. She then had her second free throw called off for a lane violation, giving Vanderbilt the ball with five seconds to go. On the ensuing inbound pass, disaster struck for the Commodores. Oliver fired her pass a little too hard, and it clanked off of Cambridge’s hands and out of bounds. This gave the Tigers one final chance with four seconds remaining. Scott-Grayson attempted to lob the ball into the post, but Pierre cemented her legacy game by outjumping the Tiger players in the post and snatching the ball for the steal. Following two Pierre free throws, the Tiger full-court heave fell to the floor, giving the Commodores an ugly but monumental win.

“This was huge. There’s a lot of ways you can go after you lose a game at home that you could have won. This wasn’t pretty, but this was huge to come back today and win. I feel good about where we’re going the rest of the season,” Ralph said after the game.

When asked about Pierre’s incredible performance of 17 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal, coach Ralph wasn’t overly surprised by the incredible game from the freshman and is expecting even greater success in the future for her young star.

“She’s such a talented player. When we got back from Christmas she was a different player, and this type of performance was coming. Once she fully understands how capable she is physically and mentally, frankly, she’s just unguardable. She is going to be a monster. Every team in the country is going to be scared of her,” Ralph said.

The Commodores next take on the Tennessee Lady Volunteers in a massive rivalry match on Sunday, Jan. 21st, at 2 p.m. CST.

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About the Contributors
Adam Burns
Adam Burns, Staff Writer
Adam Burns (‘27) is from Scottsdale, Ariz., and studies human and organizational development, business and data science in Peabody College. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find him playing sports, spending time outdoors or exploring new places. He is also an extremely passionate Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Diamondbacks fan. You can reach him at [email protected].
Payton Ohler
Payton Ohler, Staff Photographer
Payton Ohler (‘27) is majoring in civil engineering in the College of Engineering. Beyond academics, she is involved in SPEAR, Gen Action and Run Club, and loves coffee. She can be reached at [email protected].
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