Saturday was a tough night for the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Just one day after the beloved former athletic director David Williams unexpectedly passed away, Vanderbilt basketball hosted the Alabama Crimson Tide in what seemed like one of the last winnable games on the schedule. Still in search of their first conference win, the Commodores dropped this one to Alabama 77-67.
The game proved to be the easiest loss they’ve experienced this weekend.
“It was definitely a tragic thing to hear the news,” guard Saben Lee said about the news of Williams’ passing. “Then it just gives you a new perspective on life. I think it definitely changed my perspective on life, and I learned that things are more important than basketball.”
Prior to tip-off, the Vanderbilt community showed their unwavering love and appreciation for David Williams, just as he showed his love for the community. After the stadium announcer gave a brief tribute to Williams, an emotional moment of silence ensued.
“It was a wonderful tribute and there will be many more,” said the newly appointed athletic director Malcolm Turner.
Following the moment of silence, fans and players paid their respects individually.
A number of Commodore players chose to write, “RIP DW” on their sneakers prior to the competition. Their uniforms also included a black shoulder stripe as a tribute. When Turner spoke to the media after the game, he didn’t rule out the possibility of a patch, or other method of remembrance on the uniforms moving forward.
“We’re working various ways to honor him, so stay tuned,” said Turner
Meanwhile, the fans had their own tribute, as they placed a bouquet of roses in Williams’ old seat.
As the game tipped off, one thing was clear to the players and coaches, and Lee said it best: “Things are more important than basketball.”
Lee managed to put together a nearly perfect first-half box score; he may have only scored six points, but did so by making all three of the shots he took, while also pulling down five rebounds and dishing out three assists.
By the game’s end, Lee had amassed 24 points on nine of 13 from the field, along with five rebounds, three assists, and three steals.
Unfortunately, not everyone had as flawless a night as Saben Lee.
Joe Toye and Matt Ryan began to struggle in the first half, as the two shot a combined 3-11. As the game progressed, they just kept shooting, hoping their cold streak would dissolve with a higher volume of attempts.
At halftime, Vanderbilt trailed Alabama 38-31 for all the wrong reasons. Over the course of the season, head coach Bryce Drew’s Commodores have fallen victim to the same handful of mistakes. Tonight, fans caught a rather frustrating glimpse of the very weaknesses they’ve been working to fix.
In the first half alone, the Commodores struggled to bring down defensive rebounds, allowing nine second chance points. Furthermore, their 58% from the free throw line and six early turnovers seemed to align with many other games this season.
Aside from these mistakes, there’s one more than Drew has emphasized all season, and has been working to fix: an inability to play a full, two-half game.
This game was no different.
The second half saw Vanderbilt make a run to come within five points of the lead, but again, they lacked the ability to close.
On the surface, it appeared as if the team had made slight improvements from the first half, which helped propel their short-lived run for the lead.
Slight improvement in just a few categories just isn’t going to cut it. Especially when one of the mistakes that went without significant improvement was free throw shooting.
Free throw shots are meant to be “free,” yet they pose extreme difficulty for this Vanderbilt Commodore team. They improved to just a mediocre 63% in the first half, hardly improving their full-game conversion rate to 61%.
In the end, Vanderbilt lost by ten points.
They missed 11 free throws.
Another day in the life of a Vanderbilt fan, as the Alabama Crimson Tide came out hot, and never looked back. Drew pointed to the free throws and a lack of defensive rebounding as major pitfalls in this game, but quite frankly, there were a whole lot of mistakes made.
Former NBA Champion and current head coach for the Crimson Tide, Avery Johnson, gave his own two cents as to how Williams’ reach went far beyond Vanderbilt’s borders. When Johnson was hired, he continued, it was Williams who mentored him and lent a helping hand.
“David was a great man,” he said. “A man that really loved student athletes. He strategically sought me out when i first got the job here at Alabama, and spent some time talking to me about coaching in college, and making that transition. He was very kind and I didn’t know him at all. Just a great man, really loved to serve. And obviously, since this is Black History Month, with his significant role here as an athletic director, he touches a lot of people. I wanted to again send my condolences to his family, all of his children, and the Vanderbilt community because it was a tough 24 hours. What a first class human being he was. He was an asset to this university and to this community.”
The Vanderbilt Commodores will travel to Florida to take on the Gators on Wednesday night.