Despite losing, disciplined game bodes well for Commodores

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Despite losing, disciplined game bodes well for Commodores

Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) argues a call as Vanderbilt lost to #6 Kentucky 87-81 at Memorial Gym January 10, 2016.

Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) argues a call as Vanderbilt lost to #6 Kentucky 87-81 at Memorial Gym January 10, 2016.

Ziyi Liu

Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) argues a call as Vanderbilt lost to #6 Kentucky 87-81 at Memorial Gym January 10, 2016.

Ziyi Liu

Ziyi Liu

Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) argues a call as Vanderbilt lost to #6 Kentucky 87-81 at Memorial Gym January 10, 2016.

Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

Vanderbilt followed a familiar path in Tuesday’s loss to Kentucky, but one major difference bodes well for the Commodores going forward.

Yes, head coach Bryce Drew’s team came up short, falling 87-81. Senior center Luke Kornet was quick to assert that the team was mad about the loss rather than proud of taking a top-10 team down to the wire. But, as Drew said after the game, the ‘Dores executed their coaching staff’s game plan quite well and were only a few more converted open looks away from winning a shootout.

“We executed our game plan very well with a short turnaround [from Saturday’s game],” Drew said. “Offensively, we got the shots that we wanted to get.”

Against one of the most physically imposing teams in the country, a relatively undersized and unathletic Vanderbilt held its own. The Commodores successfully limited their own turnovers and Kentucky’s offensive rebounds, two major points of emphasis Drew identified heading into the game.

This performance came immediately after a loss to Alabama in which Vanderbilt allowed a whopping 20 offensive rebounds and committed an acceptable but suboptimal 12 turnovers. The fact that Drew’s team was able to cut both of those numbers nearly in half against much stronger competition bodes well for the team going forward and reflects well on the players’ and coaches’ preparation ahead of the game.

“I was really pleased with our seven turnovers against their defense,” Drew said. “Again, they play very good defense and with their length they really pressure you and turn you over.

Kentucky’s size advantage was obvious from the tip; although the 7’1” Kornet held a three-inch advantage over UK’s Bam Adebayo, the latter used his massive 260-pound frame to push the former under the basket. Adebayo drew multiple fouls on Kornet and backup center Djery Baptiste and threw down a vicious dunk over Kornet in the first half.

Despite all that, Adebayo only managed three offensive rebounds all game. The Kentucky big man is one of the nation’s better offensive rebounders, but Drew’s decision to switch Roberson onto Adebayo in favor of Kornet paid dividends in the second half.

Giving up about 40 pounds, Roberson worked time after time to box out Adebayo and keep him from gaining good position near the basket on offense. Not only did Roberson find success on defense, though: The junior forward also put together his best offensive game of the year in scoring 19 points on 12 shots to go with his nine rebounds and zero turnovers.

“I thought [Roberson] did a great job,” Drew said. “He’s giving up a lot of size, both with height and weight, but he’s a really tough player. He took it as a challenge to keep [Adebayo] out of the lane and from dunking on us like he was earlier in the game.”

Obviously, Vanderbilt would have rather botched the execution of its game plan but won the game. Its outside shots didn’t fall against Kentucky, as Matthew Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance missed multiple open looks, but LaChance and Roberson successfully got to the rim on multiple occasions against a great perimeter defense.

Considering the team stayed in the game against a top team without shooting well, however, this represents a performance it can build on.

The Commodores still hold the title of the SEC’s best jump shooting team, leading the conference in three-point shooting percentage. Vanderbilt made only 8-of-29 threes against Kentucky, and the team is sure to shoot better in future games against strong opponents. Off shooting nights happen, but the ‘Dores did a great job overall at controlling aspects of the game that are more in their hands, like their energy and discipline.

Aside from one terrible stretch against Alabama, Vanderbilt has looked like a different team over the past two weeks than the one that lost to Bucknell and got run off the court by Middle Tennessee State. The 8-8 record isn’t what anyone inside or outside the program is looking for, but there’s evidence that Drew’s squad is at least a middle-of-the-pack SEC team.

Regardless of the loss, that’s a significant, positive development. Now the ‘Dores must get results as they jockey for position in the league, starting with a their rivalry game with fellow mid-tier SEC team Tennessee.

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