Commodores fall – just – short at Kentucky, 77-74
Vanderbilt was in it all night.
It just couldn’t pull it out.
Looking for its first Southeastern Conference win of the season, the Commodores competed from start to finish and registered one of their best overall performances of the year but ultimately suffered a heartbreaking 77-74 loss to Kentucky on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
"I thought our guys fought and competed," Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse said. "Just things we worked on this week, they really brought it to the game. I thought the ball was really popping in the first half and really got us some good looks and some good opportunities. Second half, it was sticking just a little bit, but I still thought we were moving it side-to-side and creating some good opportunities.
"Just at the end, they made one more shot than we did."
The two sides played a competitive, back-and-forth opening half, as Kentucky held a tight 8-7 lead five minutes in before pushing their advantage to 17-11 with an Olivier Sarr jumper at the 11:11 mark. Vanderbilt answered with back-to-back 3s from Myles Stute to even the scoreboard, and it was again tied 29-29 with 4:55 left in the half.
A pair of triples by Jordan Wright – followed by a score inside from Scotty Pippen Jr. – made it an 8-0 run for Vandy and put it up 37-29, and Wright soon hit another from beyond the arc to send the Commodores into the locker room leading 40-33.
The contest remained close in the ensuing frame, with Vanderbilt holding a slim 53-50 advantage at the 11:51 mark. Back-to-back layups by Quentin Millora-Brown and Wright made it 57-53, but UK retook a 59-57 lead with 7:55 remaining.
A pair of 3s by Stute and Dylan Disu knotted things up at 70-70 with 3:52 to go, and the Wildcats were up 74-72 with 1:03 on the clock. Pippen’s free throws again tied it at 74-74, but Davion Mintz hit a 3 to put UK up – and Maxwell Evans’ triple to tie just rimmed out at the buzzer and the Commodores fell short.
"Just execution down the line," Pippen said of what Vandy needs to take away from the loss moving forward. "Just a couple of defensive things we lacked on, some coverages we called out a little bit late, some coverages we messed up. They end up hurting us."
VU returns to action Saturday against Mississippi State at Memorial Gymnasium. Tipoff is scheduled for Noon on the SEC Network.
A nearly perfect first half
Vanderbilt played one of its best halves of basketball in a long time in the first half against Kentucky, shooting nearly 50% from the field and knocking down 8 3s amongst three different players – all while only committing 3 turnovers.
Pippen Jr. was facilitating the offense at a high level and making his drives to the rim look easy, Disu was working inside the paint and Stute and Wright were both knocking down shot after shot from deep.
In addition to the ‘Dores’ offensive success, they were limiting UK and making it tough for the Wildcats to find an offensive rhythm.
The Commodores played with much energy from the start and showed that they went to Lexington to compete.
"I feel like today we showed some fight," Pippen said. "That's what we lacked in our previous games when we lost by 20 or more. Tonight, we came out and we fought, and I can't really complain on that."
Pippen has help
It wasn’t just Pippen Jr. doing all of the scoring for Vanderbilt on Tuesday. He actually had help.
While Pippen finished with 18 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists – an all-around night for the star, Disu scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, Wright had 18 points and Stute tallied 16. All of those guys worked together to balance out the ‘Dores stat sheet and gave themselves a legitimate chance to win.
"We're getting there, man. We're building," Stackhouse said. "We'll look at this as a positive and try to get better from some of the mistakes that we made."
This team will be able to compete against every SEC squad if it’s able to get that same type of production.
"It helped a lot," Pippen said. "I was just giving what the defense gave me, just finding my teammates open – and they were able to hit shots. It always helps to have guys scoring the ball."
Bench Harvey, start Wright
D.J. Harvey has been struggling – very, very badly – this season. There’s no other way to put it.
Harvey, now just 1-of-14 shooting in his past two games, hasn’t been a productive starter, while Wright came off the bench and played phenomenally in 28 minutes of action.
Wright played like a starter – and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the lineup soon.
"I've been telling him to take better shots," Pippen said of Harvey. "I feel like he's feeling a little bit pressured to come in and make an impact right away instead of just letting the game come to him."