There is a college basketball proverb that states, “Live by the three, die by the three.” That phrase rang true on Saturday night as Vanderbilt came up short to an undefeated Liberty team by a score of 61-56.
Ten days removed from their victory over Buffalo, the Commodores showed confidence in the first half against a highly-regarded Liberty team. Despite the elongated time off, Vanderbilt showed no signs of rust after having a week and a half of separation from last participating in an organized game of hoops.
Liberty rolled into Nashville with an unblemished record thus far into the season making this matchup Vanderbilt’s toughest test to date. Not only have the Flames been hot this season, but the program is coming off a remarkable 2018-2019 season that was highlighted with a win over Mississippi State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Vanderbilt hit the ground running and jumped out to a 17-8 advantage powered by a 14-2 run to open the gates. Liberty immediately countered with a 19-4 run and was able to recapture the lead, if only for a moment. Vandy closed the half on an 11-0 spurt capitalized by a buzzer beating alley-oop from Scottie Pippen Jr. to Saben Lee, leaving the crowd at Memorial Gym on its feet as the Commodores headed to the locker room with a 32-27 lead at the break.
Along with a perfect record, Liberty also brought the nation’s second ranked defense, holding opponents to just 49.6 points per game entering the contest.
In the second half Vanderbilt saw for themselves exactly what makes the Flames’ defense so impenetrable.
After shooting 48 percent from the field in the first half, including 5-of-15 from three-point land, Vandy could not buy a bucket in the last twenty minutes. The Commodores went 6-for-26 (23 percent) including an anemic 1-for-13 from distance. It was a combination of defensive pressure and shots just not falling for Vanderbilt.
“There Just was a lid on the basket in the second half,” said head coach Jerry Stackhouse. “Got good looks, got good opportunities that we are capable of stepping up and making. We just weren’t able to make enough shots.”
Aaron Nesmith finished with 19 points despite an uncharacteristic 2-for-8 night from beyond the arc. The second half of the SEC’s top scoring duo – Saben Lee – ended with 16 points going 6-for-10 from the floor and connecting 2-of-4 from three.
Outside of the Nesmith-Lee tandem, Dylan Disu led Jerry Stackhouse’s troops with a measly six points although he contributed seven rebounds as well. Finding points elsewhere is becoming a problematic quest for Stackhouse.
“We need more contributions,” said Stackhouse. “I would love to see Clevon (Brown) get more shots than that.”
The ‘Dores were stymied by the 6-foot-5, 270-pound sophomore forward Myo Baxter-Bell. Baxter-Bell had 18 points off the bench and muscled his way through the interior of Vanderbilt’s defense. Caleb Homesley dropped 14 points while Elijah Cuffee chipped in 13 of his own for the Flames.
After back-to-back games against tournament teams from this past season, the sample size is now large enough and the schedule has been competitive enough to have a grasp of what this team is capable of. And without contributions from players not named Nesmith or Lee, it could be a long season for the boys in black and gold.