On Wednesday afternoon, Vanderbilt University announced that all students would be required to vacate their dorms and leave campus due to the spread of Coronavirus. Hours later, it became apparent that the Commodore Men’s Basketball Team can follow suit.
Vanderbilt lost its opening round matchup in the SEC Tournament to the Arkansas Razorbacks by a score of 86-73, thus ending the team’s 2019-2020 season.
The game was played in front of thousands of fans in Bridgestone Arena and would mark the final SEC Tournament game with fans permitted to be in attendance. Those fans watched the Commodores — who had just come off two consecutive victories heading into Wednesday night — play out the rest of their season as a formality in the waning moments of the second half.
“We were really excited to play this game,” Jerry Stackhouse said in his postgame presser. “It just didn’t work out for us. Some of it was our own doing, just not being able to have the disposition and urgency that we needed to start the game. We eventually got it but it was just a little too late.”
Saben Lee led the way for the Commodores with 30 points on 9-16 shooting from the field and 11-13 from the line, featuring a string of eight points in the second-half that brought the Vanderbilt contingent on its feet for the first and only time all night.
“My hat goes off to the kid because over the last two years, probably nobody had more things change during the course of the season than him,” Stackhouse said of his star. “And every time he stepped up and responded. He’s a real coachable kid, a real likeable kid and I think he really helped himself as far as some opportunities at the next level.”
“Just don’t get frustrated if you’re receiving a lot of defensive attention,” Lee added about his recent high-scoring games. “Just making the right reads and the right plays and Coach Stackhouse does a great job trying to get me in the right spots.”
In the end, his effort wasn’t enough, as Vanderbilt couldn’t outpace Mason Jones and the Razorbacks. Jones, for his part, poured in 22 points on 5-11 shooting from the field and 10-11 from the line in the victory. Desi Sills chipped in 20 points, shooting 5-6 from three.
“We were eager to play today,” Jones said. “We wanted to set the tone early for people who wanted to watch us play. I knew that was going to carry over to the game. We got a big lead and we were just able to maintain that through the whole game.”
Vanderbilt got on the board first on a straightaway three from Scotty Pippen Jr. Unfortunately for the Commodores, that would mark their only lead of the game. Jones quickly answered with seven unanswered points from Arkansas, part of a standout night for the SEC First-Teamer. A three from Isaiah Joe capped off a 10-0 run for the Razorbacks.
Saben Lee stopped the bleeding with a layup out of a timeout, but Arkansas would continue to stymie Vanderbilt’s offense from there. The Commodores would go without a made field goal for the next 9:23, missing nine consecutive threes. Maxwell Evans finally got a three-ball to drop with just under five minutes to play, but the Razorbacks had already opened a 25-12 lead.
Eight quick points from Desi Sills kept Arkansas on top and Jones would tack on five more of his own, screaming at Evans after hitting a step-back three from the top of the key. Vanderbilt was able to trim the lead to 12 before halftime, though. Pippen Jr.’s no-look feed to Lee for a layup followed up by two free throws in the final second brought the Commodores within 12 at the first-half buzzer.
Arkansas picked up right where it left off in the second half, taking advantage of a slew of Vanderbilt errors and missed shots. Jalen Harris found himself wide open for two consecutive jumpers before Jones and Jimmy Whitt Jr. converted in transition to extend the lead to 17. A three out of the under-16 timeout from Sills pushed the lead to 20.
The Commodores continued to fight to chip away, however. Straight line drives from Lee, Pippen Jr. and Jordan Wright resulted in buckets midway through the second half. Wright’s six unanswered points brought the deficit to 14, but a dunk from Reggie Chaney and a three from Joe ended the Vanderbilt run.
That’s when Lee would make his push to bring the Commodores back in the game. A fastbreak layup followed by a pull-up three that rattled around the iron ignited the offense, and his and-one on the ensuing possession gave Vanderbilt life.
Jones would kill the run from the foul line, though, and Sills’s fifth made three would be the dagger, capping off a win for Arkansas in which the Razorbacks led for 39 of 40 minutes.
With just 19 seconds to play, Lee, who had just sunk his 30th point of the night, exited to a standing ovation from the Vanderbilt crowd.
“I feel like over time you saw us continue to make strides in various ways,” Lee said of the team’s progress this season. “I feel like it’s going to go in the right direction going into next season.”
With the loss, Jerry Stackhouse finishes his first season at the helm 11-20 overall and 3-15 in SEC play. Barring transfers, he will return every scholarship player on the roster next season. The Commodores will also pick up the services of Rice transfer Quentin Millora-Brown, Notre Dame transfer DJ Harvey, Kansas transfer Issac McBride and incoming freshman Myles Stute.
“Next year I’m gonna have a lot of toys in my toy chest,” Stackhouse said. “I can’t wait to play with them.”