Press Conference Notes: Stackhouse gives updates on injuries, previews Mississippi State

Coach Jerry Stackhouse addressed the media Friday to provide updates on the health of his team and preview the Commodores’ upcoming tilt with Mississippi State on Saturday.

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Max Evans goes up for a layup in the Vanderbilt’s 84-41 win over Mississippi Valley State in December. (Hustler Multimedia/Truman McDaniel).

Justin Hershey, Lead Sports Analyst

Following yet another heartbreaking loss to the Kentucky Wildcats, head coach Jerry Stackhouse and the Vanderbilt Commodores returned to Nashville for a week of practice ahead of a challenging home tilt with Mississippi State on Saturday. 

After dropping their Southeastern Conference (SEC) opener to the Florida Gators on Dec. 30, Stackhouse’s team held yet another halftime lead over Kentucky on Tuesday. But after Max Evans’ game-tying three point attempt fell just short, Vanderbilt dropped to 0-2 in SEC play with a 77-74 loss.

Through the first two games of SEC play, Scotty Pippen Jr. has continued his remarkable sophomore campaign. Pippen Jr. ranks second in the conference in both points per game (22.0) and assists per game (5.0) and flirted with a triple double against the Wildcats, dropping in 18 points while adding eight assists and eight rebounds.

“Scotty’s making all the right plays offensively, he’s taking what the defense gives him,” Stackhouse said Friday. “They [opponents] are going to try and not allow him to score and beat them, so he has to trust the pass, and I thought he did a really good job of that.”

Pippen Jr. and sophomore forward Dylan Disu have seen their roles expand as the Commodores face mid-season injury issues. Stackhouse provided updates Friday on Clevon Brown, who has been dealing with a groin injury, and Issac McBride, who was in a walking boot on Tuesday against Kentucky. 

“Clevon looks like he is getting a little bit closer. He’s going to get in some player development work and some dummy offense today, so hopefully maybe at some point next week he will be back in the mix,” Stackhouse said of Brown. “Issac is going to be out for awhile. He had a pretty nasty ankle sprain.”

But in Brown’s absence, Disu has solidified the Commodores’ smaller, 5-out offensive attack and now leads the SEC in rebounding with nine per contest.

Another bright spot for Vanderbilt has been the play of freshman Myles Stute. After missing four games due to COVID-19 complications, Stute has emerged as the Commodores’ best spot up shooter. He has made 12 of his 23 three-point attempts (52%) on the season and has started both SEC games.

“He’s a guy we identified as a recruit who could really space the floor,” Stackhouse said of Stute. “He wants to put it on the floor, he wants to do everything right now, but we want him to just kind of catch and shoot, stay in that space a little bit more right now. He’s done a good job for us so far.”

Alongside Pippen Jr., Disu and Stute, it was Max Evans and DJ Harvey who rounded out the Commodores starting lineup against Kentucky. Both players have had their share of offensive struggles, but Stackhouse has remained committed to their improvement.

“[Max] makes the right plays. He only took one shot last game but the ball flowed through him, and what he brings to us, his tenaciousness on defense, is something I like to have out there. I trust him,” Stackhouse said of Evans. 

Harvey is now shooting just 33% from the field and has made just one out of his last fourteen shots. But the much-heralded Notre Dame transfer still has his coaches’ trust and confidence.

“I just tell him to get out of his own head when he is thinking ‘I’m struggling, I’m struggling.’ No, you just got to work your way through it,” Stackhouse said. “Come here, get some early work, stay after, get some work, and both of those guys [Evans and Harvey] are doing that, so I am confident it will turn for them offensively, but most importantly keep trying to do the right things defensively, and I think they are.”

With a hot Mississippi State team rolling into Nashville tomorrow, Stackhouse has done his homework on the elite guard play of the Bulldogs. Sophomores Iverson Molinar and DJ Stewart Jr. both average over 18 points per contest, and together they comprise one of the most underrated backcourts in the SEC.

“They have a couple sophomore guards who are playing really well right now, playing in the mid-range,” Stackhouse said of the duo. “We can’t allow those two guards to come in and have 18 points a piece the way they are averaging this year. If they do that, I don’t think that bodes well for us.”

Another focus for Vanderbilt will be cleaning the defensive glass. Mississippi State grabs an offensive rebound on 39% of possessions according to KenPom, largely thanks to forwards Tolu Smith and Abdul Ado. But even in the absence of Brown, Vanderbilt has perhaps turned a corner with their rebounding play after out-rebounding Kentucky by 13 on Tuesday.

“Both of those guys are probably tops in the SEC in offensive rebounding,” Stackhouse said. “So it’s important that we continue to trend in the right direction, the way that we have been rebounding the basketball and putting bodies on people.”

The Bulldogs are coming off a convincing 78-63 win over No. 13 Missouri, but the Commodores are hungry for a win. And despite Mississippi State’s offensive firepower, Stackhouse is confident in his team’s ability to find and hit shots against the Bulldogs.

“Those guys are playing well. They had a big win over Missouri so I know that they are confident they can play against anybody,” Stackhouse said. “But I feel like if we play offense and make shots the way we are capable of, we can definitely put stress on them defensively.”

The Commodores and Bulldogs will tip off at 12:00 p.m. CST from Memorial Gymnasium on Saturday.