Irish end Vanderbilts season with 79-69 NIT loss

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Vanderbilt ended its 2005-06 campaign with an uninspired performance that was befitting for what proved to be a decidedly uninspiring season. The Commodores allowed Notre Dame (16-13) to shoot 55% from the field -- and 59% in the second half -- on the way to a 79-69 loss, closing out the year with a disappointing 17-13 record. The Irish advance to the second round of the NIT to face the winner of Michigan-UTEP this weekend.
The Commodores trailed for most of the game, and by as many as 10 in the second half. Vanderbilt cut the lead to five points on three different occasions, but could never get a stop on defense. Notre Dame sank nine of its 19 3-pointers; Vanderbilt was just 7-28 from three.
Senior point guard Mario Moore played 22 minutes for Vandy, and had a season-high seven assists. But the mercurial guard, who was the season-long subject of a series of on- and off-court disciplinary actions via Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings, was but 1-5 from the field, and 0-2 from three.
Notre Dame's Torin Francis led all scorers with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Chris Quinn and Colin Falls both added 15 points. Falls hit four 3-pointers, breaking the school's season record of 99 3-pointers set by Matt Carroll.
Derrick Byars led Vanderbilt with 18 points and six rebounds, while senior forward Julian Terrell, playing his final game as a Commodore, added 16 points and four rebounds. Junior co-captain Dan Cage added 11, including three 3-pointers. DeMarre Carroll had eight points on 4-10 from the field.
Shan Foster scored a season-low four points, making just one of nine shots, including 0-of-7 from 3-point range. Sophomore center Alan Metcalfe played 12 minutes, and was 1-3 from the field. Metcalfe also pulled down five rebounds. Alex Gordon was 2-4 from three, scoring eight points with one assist.
"They got three very good guards, and they can shoot the ball really well. They showed that tonight," said Terrell. "They pretty much hit lights out in the first half, and that put us in a hole."
"I love the fans and everyone who come out and support us," said Terell. "I'm glad that I spent the last four years of my life (at Vanderbilt), and now it's time for me to move on. My life starts new now, and I will just go on. Tomorrow I will wake up and start a new day."
Senior Moore also played his last game as a Commodore, but due to a ban on media access by the basketball program was not made available for comment after the game. Moore has been placed off limits to the media since returning from a two week leave of absense due to medical reasons in mid-January.
"We had a flurry of turnovers in the first half," said Stallings. "We only had six, but about four of them were in a row. And that enabled them to build up a lead. We did a nice job at the end of the first half getting it back to one posession, but then we started the second half and lost them a couple of times and they got some threes."
Vanderbilt was among the SEC's leaders in 3-point proficiency for the season, but was but two-of-16 from three in the second half against Notre Dame.
"I heard (Notre Dame head coach) Mike (Brey) take credit that it was their defense during their radio show, but we had a lot of open looks -- Shan especially. He hadn't been able to hit the broad side of a barn for two days now, so when you get to this point and your lead guy doesn't play it's hard to (win). We don't have that kind of margin of error to come into a game like this and go 1-for-7 from three and think you're going to win.
"He's carried us a lot this season," said Stallings, "but tonight he just didn't have it."
Stallings blamed the loss largely on the sub-par performances of Foster and Carroll, who were a combined 5-19 from the field, and repeatedly allowed their Notre Dame counterparts to score virtually at will.
"We had some guys that we can normally count on that just quite honestly failed to show tonight on both ends," said Stallings. "Not just in the way they shot the ball, but defensively . . . Overall our team gave a very good effort, but we had a couple of guys who are usually very dependable and guys we've counted on all season long that just didn't show up to play this game."
Stallings said they knew Notre Dame would depend on their outside shooting ability, but they simply didn't defend them well enough to stop them from hitting a near-season-high from the field. "They do have a very good shooting team and that's something you know going in," noted Stallings. "It was an uphill climb all night, and very frustrating to be on our bench and have open shots and miss, and have rebounds secured and knock them out of our own hands. And then have a couple of guys play as poor defensively as they played. It was a frustrating night."
Vanderbilt's plan to get the ball inside to Terrell in the second half resulted in the 6-9 senior hitting eight of his 10 shots. "We were able to get it to JT and he was able to do things with it. Unfortunately we lost that battle by seven because Francis had 23," said Stallings.
The loss ends what has been a frustrating and discouraging performance for the Commodores. Picked in preseason by the media to be in the hunt for the SEC East championship, Vanderbilt failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in Stallings' seven year stay at the school. Despite being what Stallings himself termed his most athletic team of his tenure, his team consistently failed to be competitive in the paint, and struggled to find dependable point guard play after the early season suspension of Moore.
"This has been more difficult and this has been more disappointing than most (seasons) I've been through," said Stallings. "Sometimes unfortunately there are things outside of your control, and you feel like as a coach you should be able to control everything. When you get right down to it, you can't control everything.
"I made some mistakes this year," he said. "I made some mistakes from the very outset, and sometimes you have to get with a board over the head to see it.
"Rest assured I won't make those mistakes anymore, and we'll bounce back and we'll have a better season next year. We'll be a better team, we'll be a better rebounding team, we'll be a more cohesive team, and we'll be a team that executes better at the end of games."