Vanderbilt falls to Dayton in defensive snoozer

Vanderbilt+returned+to+the+scene+of+its+2016+NCAA+tournament+loss+to+Wichita+State+on+Wednesday%2C+falling+to+Dayton+68-63.

Ziyi Liu

Vanderbilt returned to the scene of its 2016 NCAA tournament loss to Wichita State on Wednesday, falling to Dayton 68-63.

Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

Hoping to find some consistency for the first time this season, Vanderbilt headed to Dayton Wednesday night hoping to earn its first road win of the year.

It wasn’t to be, however, as the Commodores (6-6) failed to find any rhythm on offense and fell to Dayton 68-63 as the Flyers pulled away in the second half.

After Dayton head coach Archie Miller had sworn to solve the Flyers’ first-half woes this year, the hosts surged to a 7-0 lead out of the gate before Vanderbilt finally got on the board with a Luke Kornet three from the top of the key.

Overall, though, the first half featured little offense and numerous shots by both teams clanking off the rim or failing to hit him at all.

“There were times where we were just lacking in execution, not cutting as sharp and not having those little extra solid screens and cuts you need against a good defensive team to get open,” Kornet said. “… We definitely have to clean up the execution and just be sharper on offense.”

Dayton found some offense from guards Charles Cooke and Darrell Davis early in the half, but Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew’s switch to a 1-1-3 zone about seven minutes into the game confused and halted the Flyers’ offense.

The zone allowed the ‘Dores to keep Kornet in the paint and around the rim after he had struggled to chase Pollard around on the perimeter to start the game. The defensive change helped Vanderbilt claw its way back into the game, as the Commodores took a 23-21 halftime lead after a buzzer-beating turnaround jumper from Payton Willis.

“[The zone] is something that we’ve been using the last couple of games, and it’s something we can go to to switch things up a little bit on defense,” Kornet said. “… I think it definitely worked at some points, but it’s just like any defense. You have to be hard and sharp on it in order to get stops, and they did a good job of moving the ball.”

A change in Miller’s strategy forced a shift in the zone to to start the second half, and Dayton immediately took advantage with an 8-0 run that forced a Commodore timeout. The Flyers maintained roughly a five-point lead for the early part of the second half, as neither team succeeded at stringing multiple baskets together. Three-pointers by Dayton’s Ryan Mikesell and Darrell Davis each stemmed VU mini-runs, keeping the Flyers’ small lead intact.

The pressure defense Dayton employed throughout much of the game appeared to tire out Vanderbilt’s ball-handlers, and a Willis turnover near midcourt allowed Dayton to push its lead to 10 with about five minutes remaining. Drew shortened his rotation even more than usual in the second half, as only seven Commodores played more than one minute after halftime.

“We could’ve cut down on turnovers,” Vanderbilt guard Matthew Fisher-Davis said. “We had a lot of good looks that we normally hit, but I think we had 13 turnovers, and if we cut a couple of those I think we win this game.”

Ultimately, Dayton knocked down just enough shots to hold Vanderbilt off, while the Commodores never found much momentum offensively. The ‘Dores shot only nine-of-31 from three-point territory and 35.4 percent overall to go along with the 13 turnovers. Fisher-Davis led Vanderbilt with a career-high 25 points, more than twice as many as any other Commodore. Cooke led Dayton with 19 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists.

“I’m encouraged,” Drew said. “I thought our guys had some great stretches in the first half, and we took a couple of punches early in that second half and we responded and had a chance to win this game in the last seven, eight minutes.”

Vanderbilt now gets over a week off before returning to the court against LSU in Baton Rouge on December 29 to start SEC play.