The confetti didn’t fall from the Maples Pavilion ceiling. They didn’t break out a podium for a postgame celebration and a trophy presentation. They didn’t cut down the nets.
Instead, they exhaled.
In the end, it’s just as well. Many of Stanford’s wins this year did not come easy. That pattern held true again Tuesday night at Maples, as the Cardinal held on for a 78-75 win over Vanderbilt in the NIT quarterfinals. The win sends Stanford (22-13, 9-9 Pac-12; RPI #59) back to New York for the NIT’s final four for the second time in four years.
The Cardinal had a 73-62 lead with 2:24 left, and a 77-70 lead with 57 seconds to go. But Vanderbilt (21-14, 9-9 SEC; RPI #104) got two free throws from James Siakam, then a long three from Matthew Fisher-Davis, and suddenly it was 77-75 with 28 seconds left.
Stanford’s last stand came down to two things: Marcus Allen at the free throw line, and the Cardinal inbounding the ball. Two very unsure things. Allen made just one of two from the line with 22 seconds to go, putting the Card ahead, 78-75. After Fisher-Davis missed a long three that went out of bounds along the baseline, Stanford had to inbound. The Card took a timeout, then (eventually) inbounded to Marcus Allen, who was fouled immediately with three seconds left.
Allen missed both free throws. Vanderbilt grabbed the second miss, and Fisher-Davis had gave it a half-court heave at the buzzer. But the shot fell short, Stanford survived, and the announced crowd of 1,546 could finally breathe again.
“I could have done without the last three minutes of the game,” Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins said with a smile after the game. “We made a lot of unforced errors, and we weren’t as sharp mentally. That’s something we have to work on, but I really was proud of our group. Having the opportunity to play in New York is special.”
“It took a lot of heart,” Chasson Randle added. “Things weren’t always going our way during the game. Their guys stepped up and made a lot of big shots. We kept fighting and we just couldn’t lose our heart and our focus. A lot of guys stepped up for us tonight.”
For Brown, this game was about redemption. “Our so-called Senior Night came against Oregon, and we didn’t win,” he said. “And I didn’t play very well. So knowing that this was actually our last game [at Maples], I just wanted to make sure we left it all out there.”
“He had 17 in the first half, and that really helped us,” Dawkins said of Brown’s game. “It energized our guys. We knew that was coming. He’d had a stretch of games where he hadn’t scored as much as he’s capable of, so it was a matter of time. When he plays like that, he’s one of the best players in America.”
Vanderbilt big man Damian Jones had been one of the best young players in America, but he looked ordinary against Stanford. He scored just eight points and grabbed eight rebounds, and was frustrated for much of the night.
“The biggest thing for Jones was that he was in foul trouble,” said Brown. “He was in and out, so he could never get in a rhythm. And Stefan did a good job of bodying him. We gave him some different looks, and we made him play more defense than maybe he wanted to.”
“We wanted Stefan to take the challenge,” Dawkins added. “Here’s a young, up-and-comer who’s probably thought of as an NBA prospect. He’s one of the best bigs in the SEC. Stefan did a good job of concentrating and keeping him off the block. That really helped us.”
The final sequence punctuated a second half that found the Card unable to apply the knockout blow to the Commodores. After Vanderbilt missed a three-pointer, Marcus Allen grabbed the long rebound, sprinted to the other end, wove through two Commodore defenders, and laid it in for a 54-44 Stanford lead with 11:33 left. The game should have been over. Instead, it got interesting.
Vanderbilt worked Stanford’s lead down to two points. The Cardinal did their part by not making a field goal for 6:27. But a hook from Stefan Nastic with 5:06 to go stabilized things for Stanford…until the final three minutes.
Neither team got off to a clean start, and Stanford recovered more quickly than the Commodores did. While Vanderbilt was busy missing six straight shots, the Card were getting busy with a 12-2 run. That sequence gave Stanford a 22-15 lead with 7:03 left in the first half.
The Commodores responded by hitting back-to-back-to-back treys, and eventually tied things at 26. But two Stanford steals – Christian Sanders and Randle tag-teaming for one, then Randle poking the ball away underneath the basket for another – led to transition layups at the other end. Stanford held a 36-31 lead at the half.
Now Stanford moves on to New York for the NIT semifinals. The Cardinal don’t know if they’ll have Michael Humphrey (ankle) available – though he did participate in warmups. They don’t know if Ray Lewis will be available for any pregame speeches. They don’t even know their next opponent, as Old Dominion and Murray State tip off Wednesday to decide who faces Stanford next Tuesday evening.
But, of all the unknowns, Chasson Randle knows one thing for sure. “There are only a few teams that can say they won their last game of the season,” he pointed out. “We want to be one of those teams. We have an opportunity and we want to make the best of it. I think we’re doing that right now.”********** ********** **********
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