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Vanderbilt picks up gritty, resume-boosting win over Fresno State


Vanderbilt ran out of gas in its first at the Anaheim Convention Center, but refused to head home with nothing to show for their voyage out west.


The Commodores defeated Fresno State in a 67-59 contest on Thursday night.


Myles Stute scored 16 points in Vanderbilt's win over Fresno State. (Gary A. Vasquez)
Myles Stute scored 16 points in Vanderbilt's win over Fresno State. (Gary A. Vasquez) (Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today Sports.)

Liam Robbins led Vanderbilt with 20 points, Tyrin Lawrence also stepped up with 19 points.

The Commodores shot just 40.7% from the field but held Fresno State to just 34.8% shooting in total and 17.8% from 3-point range.

Vanderbilt won the tip and immediately identified a mismatch and a point of emphasis. The Commodores wanted to get Robbins involved, early and often.

Robbins opened the game with seven straight points to give Vanderbilt an early spark offensively, but Fresno State countered with an 8-0 run to take the lead at the 10:40 mark of the half.

After their run, the Bulldogs didn’t trail again until the 40-second mark of the half despite shooting just 31.4% from the field and 8.3% from three up to that point..

The Commodores stormed back with a 15-3 run to end the half, though.

Vanderbilt rode that run into the half and entered the break with a 31-26 lead behind 11 first-half points from Robbins along with eight early points from both Lawrence and Myles Stute.

The Commodores kept their momentum early in the second half and extended their lead to 10 but saw their lead quickly dissolve after a 16-2 Fresno State run in a stretch without Jordan Wright and Stute.

A hobbled Wright came back into the game along with Stute which sparked the Commodores into a late scoring push in the second-half.

Vanderbilt pulled away in the final minutes with a 6-0 scoring run and 14 made free throws in the second half.

Jerry Stackhouse’s team shot just 40% from the field and was outrebounded by 10, but found a way to win in the final minutes.

The Commodores finished their trip to Anaheim with a 1-1 record in a gritty win.

It wasn’t pretty but the Commodores found a way to win

Vanderbilt certainly wasn’t at its best tonight.

The Commodores got off to a slow start, gave up a few substantial runs, went into a long offensive drought, was without its starting center for the entirety of the night, and missed its two leading scorers for a long stretch of the second half.

But it still left Thursday night’s contest with a significant win on their resume.

When Vanderbilt needed them the most, Lawrence and Robbins delivered 19 and 20 point performances, respectively, and led the Commodores to the finish line.

Vanderbilt shot just 40% from the field in its important win, but stepped up in ways that it hadn’t previously this season.

Stackhouse’s team took care of the ball, played through the post, hit free throws when they needed to, and protected the paint.

Vanderbilt also embraced its defensive identity tonight and had plenty to show for it.

In college basketball, a team won’t always be at their best, but the way they respond to that largely determines the outcome of their season.

Vanderbilt’s opponent isn’t at the same level as other teams they will see in the future, but the way in which the Commodores found a way to beat the Bulldogs was significant.

Three quick takes:

Vanderbilt needed this one

Fresno State was slotted 77th in the NET rankings heading into Thursday night’s outing, making this a quad two opportunity for Vanderbilt.

Losing a quad two game wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to the Commodores’ resume this month, but leaving Anaheim with nothing to show for their trip would have been discouraging for the Commodores to say the least.

After dropping three non-conference games to put their record at 2-3, Vanderbilt couldn’t afford to lose an opportunity to get an upper quad win against a team that it was favored against and to climb back up to .500.

Stackhouse’s team needed to leave California with something on their resume and some positive momentum surrounding their team heading into Wednesday night’s road test.

The Commodores got that from Thursday night’s contest.

Liam Robbins made a statement

The story of Thursday night’s game was Robbins.

After averaging double-figures at two different schools, Robbins came into Vanderbilt’s program with high expectations.

There were flashes, but the 7-footer was limited with an injury last season and averaged just 3.5 points per game in the Commodores’ first two games of 2022-23.

Since then, Robbins has flipped a switch.

Tonight’s game was a microcosm of that and a non-verbal announcement by Robbins that he has turned things around.

Vanderbilt identified that Robbins had a mismatch against Fresno State’s undersized frontcourt. That mismatch was emphasized early and often.

The Minnesota transfer scored Vanderbilt’s first seven points and signified that he would be a big factor throughout the night.

From there, Robbins was dominant.

The senior big man finished with 20 points on 63.6% shooting from the field, grabbed seven rebounds, and charted an unbelievable eight blocked shots.

The 7-footer has played the best stretch of basketball in his Vanderbilt career since the Commodores trip to Temple and that momentum was continued tonight in a noticeable fashion.

For the Commodores to blossom into the team that Stackhouse thinks they can be, Robbins has to be a significant factor.

Recently, the senior forward has shown signs that he can do that when the Commodores need it most.

Vanderbilt needs Stute and Wright

Robbins was fantastic tonight, but even he struggled when Stute headed to the bench with his third foul and Wright missed a stretch with a back issue.

In the absence of the veteran guards, Vanderbilt gave up a 16-2 run and didn’t score for nearly five minutes in the second half.

Vanderbilt entered that time period with a significant lead but completely fell apart and saw its lead disintegrate without its best player along with their safety blanket on the bench.

Even when a hobbled Wright came back into the game as a pseudo decoy, Vanderbilt’s offense drastically improved. Stute hit a few timely shots after returning to action, as well.

Lawrence and Robbins had nice nights for the Commodores, but it was clear, they can’t win consistently without Stute and Wright.

The pair combined for 18 points, but made an impact that the statsheet doesn’t entirely reflect.

Notes:

Vanderbilt was without Trey Thomas due to his MCL sprain along with Paul Lewis, Noah Shelby, and Quentin Millora-Brown who are out due to an illness.

Stackhouse went with his normal starting group except Robbins replaced Millora-Brown. Manjon, Lawrence, Wright, and Stute remained in the starting five.

Liam Robbins scored the first basket of the night on a quick post touch, he then followed it up with a mid-range jumper on the next possession.

Vanderbilt ended the first half on a 15-3 run which put them up 31-26 at the half.

10 Vanderbilt players saw the floor in the first half, including four freshmen.

Myles Stute picked up his third foul with 17:05 to go in the second half.

Jordan Wright dealt with back discomfort throughout the later part of the night.