Vanderbilt saved some of their worst basketball for the last game of the season with an 86-73 loss to Arkansas in the first round of the SEC Tournament held in Bridgestone Arena last night. The blowout defeat effectively ends the Commodores’ season with a 2019-2020 record of 11-21 (3-15).
The game was also the final SEC basketball game of the year in which fans were allowed to enter the stadium. The SEC put out a statement at halftime of the contest announcing that fans would not be permitted inside Bridgestone Arena beginning with Thursday’s games in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Some of those fans donning the black and gold might have wished they would have stayed home during a meager offensive effort from Vandy in the first half. The ‘Dores could not knock the lid off the rim in the early going as they opened the game shooting just 2-of-19 from the floor and 1-of-10 from three-point distance.
There was even a 9:23 drought during which Vanderbilt was held without a single field goal. Arkansas took advantage by going on a 14-3 run and creating early separation, possessing a 25-12 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the first half.
Max Evans was the Commodore to end the dry spell, but the damage was done as Arkansas carried a 38-26 advantage into halftime.
Vanderbilt closed the half connecting on just 6-of-25 (24%) field goal attempts and just 3-of-13 (23%) from beyond the arc.
Arkansas kept Vandy at bay for much of the second half despite a couple of Commodore spurts. One being a 10-2 run powered by eight points from Saben Lee to trim the Razorback lead to 59-48. But Vanderbilt was unable to pull within single digits prior to the final buzzer sounding.
Saben Lee finished with 30 points and five rebounds, marking the fourth time this season the junior has dropped 30 or more.
“My hat goes off to the kid because over the last two years nobody had more things change during the course of the season than it did for him and every time he has stepped up and responded,” said Commodore coach Jerry Stackhouse of Lee’s season.
Stackhouse praised the 2nd Team All-SEC junior guard’s tenacity, saying, “He’s a real coachable kid, a real likeable kid and I think he really helped himself. He really helped himself as far as possibly some opportunities at the next level.”
Vanderbilt junior Saben Lee finished with 594 points this season, the 10th-most ever by a Commodore in a single season
Also the fourth-most ever by a junior in a Vanderbilt season
— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) March 12, 2020
Scottie Pippen Jr. capped off an impressive freshman campaign that landed him on the SEC All-Freshman Team by dropping 16 points and six rebounds.
Dylan Disu tallied his fourth double-double of the year going for 13 points while snatching 10 boards. Disu’s fellow freshman classmate, Jordan Wright, contributed 10 points off the bench.
This season had plenty of hurdles that first-year head coach Jerry Stackhouse and his team had to overcome. They lost their primary post player and lone senior, Clevon Brown, before conference play got underway.
One bright sign for the future is that this team never stopped improving all year long.
“I’m proud of this group. I’m proud of how they came every day and brought it. They stuck with together,” said Stackhouse following the loss. “They had some tough times from adversity [and] we dealt with it.”
Saben Lee on his first year with Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse
“He’s turning the program around in many different ways, just not on the basketball court, but off the basketball court. His involvement in the community I feel like shows a lot to his character.”
— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) March 10, 2020
The biggest challenge of the year came when Aaron Nesmith suffered a foot injury in the first game of conference play that sidelined him for the season. Nesmith was the SEC’s leading scorer at the time of his injury.
Stackhouse will likely retain just about everyone from this year’s team minus Nesmith who will likely depart as he is projected to be taken in the first round of this summer’s NBA Draft.
The Commodores will officially add D.J. Harvey and Quintin Millora-Brown, who were highly thought of transfers that were forced to sit out this season after being ruled ineligible because of the NCAA’s transfer policies.
“Next year I’m going to have a lot of toys in my toy chest and I can’t wait to play with them,” said Stackhouse who appeared giddy to just mention the pair.
College basketball never stops. After the disappointing season finale, Stackhouse and his staff will immediately direct their attention to the recruiting trail.
At least they have a head start on most teams.
"Let's bring it in one last time …"
— Vanderbilt Men's Basketball (@VandyMBB) March 12, 2020
Feature image via Christopher Hanewinc of USA TODAY Sports