Press Conference Notes: Stackhouse talks close losses, trip to Starkville

Jerry Stackhouse spoke to the media on Friday, addressing his team’s recent losses and a second matchup with Mississippi State on Saturday.

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Vanderbilt lost to Mississippi State on Jan. 9 but will face the Bulldogs again this Saturday. (Hustler Multimedia/Truman McDaniel).

Justin Hershey

Following two narrow defeats at the hands of Georgia and Auburn, Vanderbilt men’s basketball coach Jerry Stackhouse met with the media Friday to discuss his team’s recent play and its upcoming rematch with the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

After a decisive first Southeastern Conference (SEC) victory over South Carolina, the Commodores fell to just 1-8 in SEC play this week. Five of those eight losses have been by seven points or less, and Stackhouse indicated that it was his team’s offense that prevented a victory on Tuesday over Auburn. 

“We understand that probably our offense, which has been really good here of late, failed us last game at all three levels,” Stackhouse explained Friday. “Around the basket, paint baskets, open threes that we had early on that could have probably gotten us separation.”

The Commodores shot just 43% against Auburn on Tuesday and even more concerning was Vanderbilt’s lack of conversion at the free throw line. Despite getting to the stripe 22 times, the Commodores sank just half of their attempts.

However, through the offensive lulls, Vanderbilt’s nucleus of sophomore contributors has continued to carry the load. The trio of Jordan Wright, Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu is now combining for over 43 points per game. 

“That group last year of Jordan, Scotty and Dylan got significant minutes last season and I think that gave them a big shot of confidence coming into this season,” Stackhouse said.

Wright had yet another impressive offensive performance against Auburn, scoring 14 points including 2-2 from beyond the three-point line. He has now scored in double-digits in five games this season and leads the team in three-point percentage at an even 50%.

“I just think [Wright’s] confident. Whenever you are able to get out there and have some success, which he has, he’s shooting the ball well from the perimeter. I think he has had a number of good plays around the basket,” Stackhouse said of his forward. “We like him being able to get in the paint and obviously draw a lot of attention.”

But with a trip to Starkville next on the docket, Vanderbilt’s focus will continue to be defense. Since surrendering 84 points to the Bulldogs in January, the Commodore defense has continued to improve. Vanderbilt held Auburn to just 36% shooting on Tuesday, a number that Stackhouse hopes to carry over into this weekend’s matchup with the high-powered Mississippi State offense.

“I think we have evolved [our defense] because of some of these quick guards and trying to stay out of rotation,” Stackhouse explained. “We were really really good on defense [against Auburn], one of our best defensive outings of the season. We held Auburn to just one point per possession.”

Much of Vanderbilt’s success on defense in the loss to Auburn can be attributed to the play of Clevon Brown. The forward has had a rocky fifth season on West End that has seen him play just 17 minutes per game. He missed multiple contests in January due to an abdominal strain, but showed on Tuesday why he has the ability to be the Commodores best rim protector.

Stackhouse elected to start Brown for the first time since Jan. 23, and he tallied his best outing of the season. He played a season-high 27 minutes and totaled five blocked shots, helping him move to sixth on the Vanderbilt all-time blocks list.

“He had a couple really good days of practice and we thought it was a great opportunity for us to insert him and he was really good,” Stackhouse said. “When we did make a mistake [against Auburn], Clevon was back there to either block a shot or when he didn’t block the shot, he had some great verticals at the rim.”

However in the second half, Brown took a hit to the groin from Auburn’s Sharife Cooper. Although he played through the injury, Stackhouse explained that he has been limited this week at practice.

In their prior loss to Mississippi State, the Commodores allowed Bulldog guards Iverson Molinar and DJ Stewart Jr. to combine for 40 points on 14-22 shooting. The Bulldogs also scored 42 points in the paint largely thanks to forward Tolu Smith.

“I definitely think there are adjustments that need to be made from that game. They shot a great percentage against us,” Stackhouse recalled. “[With] their guard play with Molinar, Stewart and now [Deivon] Smith who has emerged, we are definitely going to have our hands full making sure we try to stay in front of them and keep them out of the paint.”

Not only have the Commodores seen on-court improvements, but Stackhouse has been pleased with his team’s off-the-court bonding as well. With COVID-19 restricting gatherings on campus, Stackhouse’s team has lived in the gym, something the head coach has taken full advantage of.

“Dylan said, ‘this is the only time we can really get together to congregate and spend some time together’ because the protocols have them in isolation otherwise,” Stackhouse said. “They are enjoying each other. Obviously, they would love to get some wins to justify the work they are putting in on a daily basis at practice but we still approach it the same way and look forward to the next opportunity.”

That next opportunity will come on Saturday in Starkville as Vanderbilt looks to avenge their early season loss to the Bulldogs at 12 p.m. CST on SECNetwork.