Vanderbilt’s season ends with 69-63 loss to Florida in SEC Tournament

Despite late-game heroics from Trey Thomas and Scotty Pippen Jr., the Commodores’ season came to a close.

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Jerry Stackhouse draws up a play during a media timeout in the 2021 SEC Tournament. (Twitter/@VandyMBB)

Simon Gibbs, Sports Editor

The glass slipper shattered on Thursday, as did Vanderbilt’s hopes of making a Cinderella-run in the 2021 SEC Tournament. 

After a first-round win over No. 13 Texas A&M—Vanderbilt’s first SEC Tournament victory since 2017—the No. 12 Commodores waved the white flag, falling narrowly to the No. 5 Florida Gators, 69-63. 

“We’re disappointed,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “Our goal was to come in here and really do something special. I thought our guys fought all the way. Had some opportunities, had some shots to give ourselves a chance.”

Despite sophomore guard Scotty Pippen Jr.’s 23-point performance, as well as 12 points apiece from DJ Harvey and Trey Thomas, the Commodores’ season ended, and Stackhouse fell to 20-37 overall through two years at the helm.

The game actually began in Vanderbilt’s favor, with Pippen Jr. drawing a phantom foul on a three-point shot attempt 50 seconds into the game, then nailing all three free throws. The Commodores’ 3-0 lead gave them the slightest bit of momentum early in the contest, and it showed for quite some time: for the first 15 minutes of the first half, the Gators were unable to mount a lead greater than four points.

Vanderbilt leaned heavily on Pippen Jr., as it has all season, but he shot just 33% in the first half. His seven points—including the three free throws—paced the Commodores in the first, with senior forward Clevon Brown adding five of his own.

The Commodores shot just 32% as a team in the first half, including an abysmal 20% from three-point range on 15 shots. Their poor shooting and six turnovers haunted them in the final five minutes of the first half.

“We got defensive stops, Stackhouse said. “All the things that you need to do to win a game like this. We’ve just got to shoot a better percentage.”

Florida, after relying on an inconsistent three-point shot for the first 15 minutes, began looking for shots in the paint—and that’s when it ran away with a lead. Powered by 11 first-half points from junior guard Noah Locke, the Gators were able to score 12 in the final five minutes of the first half, while Vanderbilt scored just two.

The Commodores went into the locker room at halftime on a three-and-a-half minute scoring drought. Trailing 34-22, Stackhouse’s players had their heads down. 

For the opening ten minutes of the second half, they never looked back up.

In truth, the Commodore offense looked much better. It shot 37.5% from three-point range in the second half, and DJ Harvey had an excellent start; he made each of his first four field goals of the half, scoring ten points and giving Vanderbilt a legitimate chance at mitigating the Gator lead.

The kicker: as Vanderbilt’s shooting improved, so too did Florida’s. The Gators shot 60% from three-point range for the first couple minutes of the second half. The Commodores were doing everything in their power to fight back, but the deficit never got any lower than six.

That is, until Thomas singlehandedly changed the fate of the game.

The freshman was quiet in the first half, scoring just three points. But in the second half, the 5-foot-11 guard pulled Vanderbilt back into the game: after closing out Vanderbilt’s first-round win by drilling three of his four second-half three-point attempts to bury the Aggies, Thomas knocked down three-point shots on three-straight possessions.

In the blink of an eye, Florida’s lead had disappeared; Vanderbilt led 55-54 with just over eight minutes remaining.

“I got no problem with the effort, no problem with how our guys competed,” Stackhouse said of his team’s late-game run. “They just kept going. Super proud of them.”

The Commodores followed up the streak with a four-minute field goal drought, though, and Florida’s lead had again grown to five.

Vanderbilt continued to fight back in the game’s final minutes—this time, it was a couple quick baskets and two blocks from Clevon Brown that kept it close. With a mere 53 seconds remaining, Florida led 64-63 and held possession of the ball.

While Vanderbilt was able to force a missed shot, the Gators corralled the offensive rebound and found Tre Mann for the midrange jumper.

Mann’s shot put Florida up by three, and Thomas was unable to play the role of the hero again. He missed a game-tying three-point shot attempt, leaving Vanderbilt to foul Florida for the game’s final few seconds, with the final score sticking at 69-63.

With the loss, Vanderbilt fell to 9-16 on the season. Its season ended on Thursday afternoon, while Florida will move onto play Tennessee in the quarterfinals tomorrow.

“We want to become a tournament team,” Stackhouse said. “I think we’re a step off from that, [but] we were playing our best basketball at the right time. I think we got better [this season].”