Vanderbilt looks to rebound against Loyola Chicago

The Vanderbilt Commodores will look to get back in the win column after consecutive losses to SMU and Temple.

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Vanderbilt Athletics

Jordan Wright drives to the rim against Temple on Dec. 7, 2021. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Frankie Sheehy, Staff Writer

The Vanderbilt Commodores (5-3) will host the Loyola Ramblers (8-2) Friday night in what may be their toughest test so far this season. The Commodores are looking to break a two-game losing streak that includes Tuesday’s overtime defeat against Temple. Meanwhile, the Ramblers have won four straight. It will be Vanderbilt’s last game before a week-long break during finals.

The outcome of Friday’s game will hinge on whether the Commodores’ struggling offense can regain its harmony against a team ranked 51st in the country by KenPom in defensive efficiency. The offense is currently relying heavily on the shooting prowess of junior guards Scotty Pippen Jr. and Jordan Wright and has struggled when those two are cold. 

“We take our lumps. It’s a lot of noise around different things as far as our offense, but we know what those issues are. We’re not screening as well, we’re not getting off of it, we’re not moving as well,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse told the media on Thursday. “Just continuing to build those habits. We’re better right now with those habits in practice than we are in the games.”

The Pippen Jr.-Wright duo has combined for 44.6 percent of the Commodores’ total points this season. Vanderbilt combined for just four assists on Tuesday, all coming from Pippen Jr. and Wright. This trend has left the Commodores vulnerable, as Pippen Jr. was only able to play 29 minutes on Tuesday due to a stomach bug. Stackhouse was asked about Pippen Jr.’s current health and availability:

“[He’s] better. He didn’t practice yesterday. But I got the message that he was feeling better. So he’s going to get back into it a little bit today. Hopefully, we’ll give him a light workout today and he’s ready to go tomorrow.”

The Commodores will need Pippen Jr. at his best to face a well-balanced Loyola team under new head coach Drew Valentine. Loyola enters Friday’s clash after a dominant 88-49 win over NAIA-level Roosevelt, completing a 4-0 sweep against other Chicago schools. 

The Ramblers have seven players averaging at least eight points per game to the Commodores’ two. Loyola is one of the best shooting teams the Commodores will see: they’re shooting 51 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from behind the arc, both in the top 10 nationally. The Ramblers have spread the ball around, but are led by 6’4” senior guard Lucas Williamson, who’s averaging 11.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists. As a unit, Loyola ranks 29th in the country in KenPom’s efficiency margin, by far the best in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Ramblers are best known nationally for their 2018 Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament to the Final Four as an 11-seed, accompanied by their now 102-year-old team chaplain Sister Jean. Last year, Loyola made another splash in the Tournament, knocking out top-seeded Illinois before being knocked out in the Sweet Sixteen.

“I [love] me some Sister Jean too but they usually win when she’s in the building … Let’s let her stay home and get some rest!” Stackhouse joked Monday on Twitter.

The Commodores are playing their first Friday home game of the season against the best team they’ve faced thus far. While Vanderbilt will be underdogs against Loyola, they’ll be able to succeed by presenting a more dynamic offense than they’ve shown in the last week while containing the Ramblers’ strong shooting game. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. CST at Memorial Gymnasium.