Memorial Minutes: No quit, one potential firing

Athletic director Candice Storey Lee has an important decision to make within the next month: keep Stackhouse for one more year or look elsewhere.
Jerry Stackhouse looks at the court when Vanderbilt played Texas A&M, as photographed on Feb. 21, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)
Jerry Stackhouse looks at the court when Vanderbilt played Texas A&M, as photographed on Feb. 21, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)
Nikita Rohila

Around 60 days ago, Vanderbilt star point guard Ezra Manjon misfired on a 3-point buzzer-beater as the Commodores fell to the No. 23 Memphis Tigers, 77-75. One season after Manjon delivered a clutch buzzer-beater against Auburn and a late-game layup against Michigan, the veteran was due for Memorial Magic.

Ezra Manjon high fives Vanderbilt fans after scoring a buzzer-beater against Texas A&M, as photographed on Feb. 13, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila) (Nikita Rohila)

Vanderbilt, trailing Texas A&M 73-72 with 13 seconds remaining, had one final possession to win its second SEC game of the season on Feb. 13. Manjon took the ball from the Vanderbilt baseline, crossed the halfcourt line with 7.9 seconds remaining, drove left with 4.2 seconds left, put up a shot that was blocked by Solomon Washington with 1.4 seconds remaining, quickly recovered the ball and hailed another shot right as the final buzzer sounded.

Manjon’s buzzer-beater prayer was successful and the Vanderbilt fans at Memorial Gymnasium went wild. Vanderbilt had improved to 2-2 in February.

“[We’ve] been through a lot this season and we just continued to fight,” Manjon said after the game. “Being able to spend that moment with my guys meant everything for me.”

Jerry Stackhouse also expressed the pride he had in coaching the players on his roster.

“It’s good for us to have these moments because they [the team] stick together and they continue to work,” Stackhouse said. “When you see a team like that and how they’re happy for their teammates’ success, it just speaks volumes of the type of kids that we have, and I’m proud of it.”

The Commodores looked disoriented four days later, though, when they were humbled by No. 8 Tennessee Volunteers, 88-53. The loss marked Vanderbilt’s largest margin of defeat against Tennessee since 2014. 

Dissonance

This season has been characterized by inconsistent play from the Commodores. 

Vanderbilt has shown in moments that it can compete against the best teams in the nation. The Commodores lost by only one possession to both No. 13 Alabama and No. 23 Memphis. 

The Commodores also have demonstrated that they are far from the upper-echelon SEC teams. Aside from losing eight nonconference games — including their home opener to No. 315 Presbyterian — the Commodores have been outscored 934-768 in their 12 SEC games. In its conference games, Vanderbilt has averaged 64 points per game while its opponents have averaged just under 78 points per game. 

Vanderbilt allowed the Kentucky Wildcats to score their most points on the road (109) since 1996 and allowed Tennessee to score a combined 163 points in its two meetings. 

On Saturday, Vanderbilt was outplayed by its state rivals right from the tip.

After miraculously beating Texas A&M, the Commodores were asleep in their next matchup as the Volunteers got off to a 35-8 start with just over 13 minutes elapsed in the game. While Tennessee was 5-of-10 from the 3-point line and 14-of-25 from the field at that point, Vanderbilt was 1-of-9 from behind the arc and 3-of-17 from the field.

The Commodores looked dissonant and disconnected right from the jump. Tennessee has the fifth-most efficient defense, according to KenPom. While the Volunteers defense is stout, losing by 35 points is inexcusable. 

Although Vanderbilt had offensive rhythm and generated good looks at the basket against Texas A&M, it was unable to find good looks at the net on Saturday. Vanderbilt ultimately shot 33.3% from the field against the Volunteers.

“We’ll figure that out,” Stackhouse said after the game when asked what his point of emphasis will be moving forward.

Ven’s ascent

Getting the ball in the paint to center Ven-Allen Lubin could be a viable point of emphasis moving forward. 

After Liam Robbins declared for the NBA draft and Quentin Millora-Brown and Malik Dia left after the 2023 season, Stackhouse brought in Notre Dame transfer Lubin and South Dakota transfer Tasos Kamateros to solidify the Vanderbilt frontcourt. Lubin was originally slated to split the load with Lee Dort as Vanderbilt’s starting big men, but an assault charge sidelined Dort since his first game of the season.

Ven-Allen Lubin blocks the shot, as photographed on Dec. 2, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Vince Lin) (Vince Lin)

Lubin made his Vanderbilt debut against NC State at the Vegas Showdown on Nov. 23, 2023. He proved to be a force in the paint, scoring 16 points and notching 8 rebounds in Vanderbilt’s six-point loss. Since then, Lubin has been one of the few consistent starters for the Black and Gold. 

Lubin provided an offensive spark in Vanderbilt’s 15-point loss to South Carolina on Feb. 10 with 12 points scored from the field on just 9 attempts.

Three days later, the Florida native scored a career-high 25 points in Vanderbilt’s thrilling 74-73 victory over Texas A&M. Lubin notched a season-best 69.2% from the field and was 6-of-7 from the charity stripe. The sophomore scored all of Vanderbilt’s first 11 points. 

Lubin’s 25-point scoring night was the third-most points Texas A&M has allowed to an individual player in an SEC game this season. Only Arkansas’s Tramon Mark has scored more on the Aggies. Mark scored 26 points in both of Arkansas’s meetings with Texas A&M. The key difference between Mark and Lubin is that Mark takes an average of 25.8% of Arkansas’s shots, while Lubin takes an average of 21.3% of Vanderbilt’s shots.

In Vanderbilt’s matchups against South Carolina and Texas A&M, Lubin averaged an impeccable 68% field goal percentage. He also scored an average of 19 points in that span, 8 points higher than his season average of 11 points per game.

Despite Lubin’s success against the Gamecocks and Aggies, he was unable to find much of a rhythm against the No. 8 Tennessee Volunteers last Saturday. Lubin was 4-of-11 from the field (36.4%) in 23 minutes played. 

Vanderbilt is ranked 303rd in Division 1 in 2-point field goal percentage (46.9%) and Lubin helps the Commodores from making that statistic worse. Lubin has made 53.6% of his 2-pointers, which is the best rating of any Vanderbilt player that is used in at least 16% of its possessions.

Candice Storey Lee’s looming decision 

The Commodores have six games remaining on their regular season schedule with only two more home matchups before students go on spring break. Vanderbilt will have to play No. 24 Florida twice and No. 17 Kentucky moving forward. Before the season comes to an end, the Commodores will likely be the No. 13 seed or No. 14 seed in the SEC Tournament. Unless Vanderbilt wins the conference tournament, a NCAA Tournament appearance is nearly impossible at this point.

Jerry Stackhouse reacts from the sidelines at Memorial, as photographed on Jan. 27, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila) (Nikita Rohila)

Stackhouse will look to have his team bounce back from their humiliating loss to Tennesee and win a few more SEC games before the season concludes. After the season, star guard Manjon will no longer be on West End, having used all of his NCAA eligibility.

Stackhouse may also be in his last season with the Commodores. Beyond not making an NCAA Tournament in his five years at Vanderbilt, Stackhouse will likely lead Vanderbilt to a sub-10 win season this year. That would be the second time in five seasons a Stackhouse-led Vanderbilt team has secured this feat.

One season ago, Stackhouse led Vanderbilt to its most wins since 2012 (22) and won 13 SEC games. Despite being snubbed from an NCAA Tournament appearance, Vanderbilt made it to the NIT Quarterfinals, before losing to UAB. Vanderbilt’s strong regular season led to Stackhouse winning SEC Co-Coach of the Year before the SEC Tournament.

There is a strong possibility the Commodores fail to win half of the games they did last season. Although Vanderbilt lost many key pieces to its 2022-23 team in Robbins, Jordan Wright and Millora-Brown, Stackhouse may not have enough going in his court to earn another season as head coach for the Commodores.

Athletic director Candice Storey Lee has an important decision to make within the next month: keep Stackhouse for one more year or look elsewhere. No matter who Vanderbilt’s head coach is next season, the Commodores should focus on keeping Jason Rivera-Torres and Lubin from entering the transfer portal.

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About the Contributors
Andrew Wilf
Andrew Wilf, Former 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].
Josh Rehders
Josh Rehders, Former 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].
Nour Abida
Nour Abida, Staff Photographer
Nour Abida ('25) is majoring in political science and medicine, health and society with a minor in Spanish in the College of Arts and Science. She is from Tunis, Tunisia. You can reach her at [email protected].
Nikita Rohila
Nikita Rohila, Senior Staff Photographer
Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Deputy Social Media Director. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected].
Vince Lin
Vince Lin, Deputy Videography Editor
Vince Lin (‘27) is from Zanesville, Ohio, and is majoring in computer science. Vince also serves as a graphics and photography staffer. Outside of school, you can find him at the gym, rowing, lifting weights, playing games with friends or sleeping. You can reach him at [email protected].
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J L Morris
4 months ago

It takes fans in attendance to create Memorial Magic.
Not only has Stack lost the team, he has lost the fans.
Candice Lee’s problem comes after Stack is gone–resigns or get booted. That problem is hiring a coach who can win.
When she was to hire a FB coach, she said, “I’m going to find an offensive minded coach.” Two weeks later she hires a defensive coordinator. I don’t need to explain how that’s turned out, do I?
Until the Chancellor wakes up and hires a real AD, it’ll always be SOV.