Vanderbilt blown out by Texas A&M 69-50 in first action without Nesmith

With Aaron Nesmith and Clevon Brown both inactive, the Commodores struggled shooting the ball and fell to a bigger and more athletic Texas A&M team.

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Hunter Long

Vanderbilt Guard Scotty Pippen Jr. drives into the lane in the Commodores loss to Texas A&M

Justin Hershey, Deputy Sports Editor

After the devastating news of Aaron Nesmith’s likely season ending injury broke Friday night, the Vanderbilt Commodores (8-7, 0-2) had no time to mourn as they hosted the Texas A&M Aggies (8-6, 2-1) Saturday afternoon.

What once seemed like a strong chance to break their 21-game losing streak against SEC opponents turned into a 69-50 Aggies route.

The Aggies have struggled to score the basketball this season, averaging just 58 points per contest, but they had seemingly no issue scoring on the Vanderbilt defense. 

The Commodores were coming off of a heartbreaking loss to fifth ranked Auburn on the road, and without their leading scorer in Nesmith and their most important defensive presence in Clevon Brown, they had no answer to the Aggies’ athleticism and size.

A&M jumped out to a 7-0 run to start the game, thanks to solid probing and mid range shooting from guard Andre Gordon and turnovers from the Commodores.

Vanderbilt quickly returned the favor by forcing four Texas A&M turnovers in the first eight minutes. This helped them climb back to within two at the first media timeout.

Still, the Commodores continued to struggle on offense with seemingly no go-to scoring option. When they were able to get out in transition, forward Jordan Wright and guard Saben Lee were able to finish at the hoop, but Texas A&M actively prevented Vanderbilt breakouts with a half court trap that frustrated the Commodores point guards.

The Aggies went on a strong scoring stretch in which they made seven of nine field goals in the middle of the first half and in conjunction with an over three minute Commodore scoring drought, A&M had a 15-point lead with seven minutes left in the half.

With a shorthanded bench, Coach Stackhouse turned to walk on guards Jon Jossell and Braelee Albert for significant minutes in the first half. Both played hard but struggled against the Aggies size and athleticism.

The Commodore defense improved late in the half, forcing a four minute Aggies scoring drought, but any sort of run was rendered impossible thanks to poor shooting of their own. The Aggies continued to trap Lee and Pippen Jr. in the half court, making it difficult for the Commodores two best scoring options to find shots.

Vanderbilt closed the half on a one of eleven shooting stretch, and with Dylan Disu and Pippen Jr. both on the bench due to foul trouble, the Commodores struggled to do much of anything on offense.

Thanks to 24 percent shooting from the field, a deficit on the glass and only four points from Saben Lee, the Commodores found themselves down 16 at the half to a very average Texas A&M team.

The second half started similarly to the first as the Commodores continued to struggle shooting the three. Despite multiple big dunks from center Ejike Obinna, the Commodores could not mount any sort of run. Aggies freshman Andre Gordon continued to give Pippen Jr. problems as he probed and finished at the rim with ease.

After the first media timeout of the second half, the Commodores tried to press the Aggies, but it backfired, turning into a massive slam dunk for guard Quenton Jackson. The dunk seemed to suck the energy not only out of Memorial, but out of the Vanderbilt team as well.

A series of easy baskets at the rim, second chance opportunities and Commodore turnovers helped the Aggies extend their lead to 29 points with eleven minutes to go.

The Commodores surrendered an 18-3 Aggies run in the middle of the second half, and the game was all but over from there. The teams swapped baskets late, and the final score ended up favoring the Aggies 69-50.

Turnovers continued to be a problem down the stretch for this team and Saben Lee was never able to get into a rhythm, finishing with just four points on only five shots.

Obinna continued to play hard deep into the second half and ended up with a near career high twelve points and seven rebounds in the losing effort.

For the Aggies, Andre Gordon had a breakout performance that included fifteen points on an efficient 6-for-12 shooting. A&M’s leading scorer, Josh Nebo, was not much of a factor in the win, but he also did not play many minutes, thanks to the Aggies’ constant lead.

Vanderbilt finished shooting a brutal 31% from the field and 5-30 from the three point line. Throughout the game, the Commodores struggled to create open shots and driving lanes for Lee and Pippen Jr. And coupled with poor outside shooting from Disu and Jordan Wright and the Aggies became too much for Vanderbilt.

Following the game, Coach Stackhouse provided an update on Aaron Nesmith’s status, reporting that his season is most likely over due to the six week recovery process necessary for the stress fracture in his right foot.

“It was a tough blow understanding that our leader and our best player, who has been a huge part of what we have done so far is probably no longer going to be with us,” Stackhouse said.

He explained how the news about Nesmith clearly affected his team’s performance on the court; he was disappointed but understood the emotional toll that his players had gone under in the previous 24 hours, Stackhouse said.

“I thought we were passive, our mindset was passive… It was like guys wanted to do things, but they were paralyzed by the situation, and that’s where we have to find a way to get them out of their own heads,” Stackhouse said.

According to Stackhouse, Nesmith had been experiencing some discomfort in the previous few weeks because of an ankle injury.

“I think they saw a little something there, but it wasn’t a major concern and then it’s like, let’s just be sure and to go in and be sure, they found out that it was more,” Stackhouse said.

Stackhouse referenced Vanderbilt’s recent struggles with injuries, alluding to Darius Garland’s season ending injury from last season, adding that it was almost like déjà vu for this group of players.

“It was déjà vu for everyone again when they hear, ‘Oh, Aaron’s season is over,'” Stackhouse said. “Yesterday you could almost see the calm come over the team like, ‘here we go again.'”

Stackhouse then emphasized that he wants to support Nesmith in his upcoming draft decision and understands what is at stake for such a promising young prospect.

“He has an opportunity to create a legacy for his family, and yeah, we would love to have him, but we want what is best for him. You feel so bad for that kid, he was emotional, he was in tears… His draft stock is right there in a good spot… I am looking to help them [Nesmith and his family] with that decision.”

Unfortunately, similarly to last season, Vanderbilt must redesign its offensive focus in light of Nesmith’s expected absence. Coach Stackhouse will need to replace 24 points and gritty defense from elsewhere on this roster.

The Commodores will continue to search for answers to Nesmith and Clevon Brown’s absences when they head to Fayetteville to battle one of the SEC’s best teams in Arkansas on Wednesday, Jan. 15.