Vanderbilt's rough 2016/2017 season continued on Thursday night as they were ambushed by a veteran, talented and hungry Middle Tennessee State basketball team that pounded the Commodores thoroughly inside the Murphy Center, 71-48.
It was the Commodores first true road game of the season and the team never looked comfortable from the start. Senior center Luke Kornet (8 pts, 5 reb) struggled everywhere on the court but especially inside the paint. The Vanderbilt guards could not contain the Blue Raiders on offense nor could they knock down shots. Matthew Fisher-Davis led Vandy in scoring with 13 but he along with the rest of the Commodores team combined to go 5-19 from three-point range and 17-53 overall from the field. It was a cold shooting night for the Dores and this team has shown that if they don't hit shots, they usually don't win.
The game remained close in the 1st half until the Blue Raiders defense began to take control. MTSU held a 21-19 lead with five minutes until halftime when Giddy Potts (Game high 27 pts) nailed a 3-pointer that solidified the lead. The Blue Raiders never looked back from there.
MTSU played outstanding defense against Vandy on Thursday and seemed to scout to the Dores weaknesses very well. Turnovers began to become an issue for Vandy early in the game that eventually stretched into the 2nd half. The Commodores turned the ball over 13 times, which allowed the Blue Raiders to score in the open court at ease. MTSU had a suffocating zone defense that filtered in traps and it bothered the Commodore guards all night long.
Vanderbilt's defense from the start wasn't looking good but they only trailed 31-23 coming out of halftime. The halftime score was the closet the game would be from there on out. MTSU scored at will on the Commodores lackluster defense and the cold shooting that started in the first half, remained frozen with no signs of improvement. Kornet worked hard in the paint the entire game trying to establish himself but never was able to find the bottom of the bucket. Riley LaChance was held in check by going 1-4 from the field, 0-2 from three with a total of two points. Jeff Roberson might have been the brightest spot of the Commodores team on Thursday night where he had 11 points and 8 rebounds but he struggled on the defensive end of the court.
The Commodores never had an answer on defense and could not generate enough points to surpass the Blue Raiders. Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew coached hard but stood in amazement watching his team perform in a manor that is not acceptable but it's a learning curve from collection of people that are still learning each other.
Vanderbilt evened up their season record tonight at 5-5 with the loss to MTSU and will now be on a 9 day break before the Commodores come back home to play a very talented Chattanooga team. MTSU improved their record to 9-1 as well as achieved their second win this season over an SEC team (defeated Ole Miss 77-62 on Nov. 30th)
Blue Raiders "Big Three"
Last year's MTSU team that upset the 2nd seeded Michigan State Spartans last year in the NCAA tourney, might not be as good as the version that defeated Vanderbilt on Thursday night. The Blue Raiders big three of Potts, Reggie Upshaw and Jacorey Williams could be the reason the why!
All three seniors dominated the Commodores where collectively they almost outscored the entire Vanderbilt team 44 to 48. Potts was dynamic with the ball in his hands hitting shots from long range as well as driving to the hole. Upshaw (14 pts, 6 reb) was a mismatch nightmare for the Dores defense. He had multiple crowd raising dunks and was able to back down the Vanderbilt defenders for easy buckets. Williams (13 pts, 10 reb) was another mismatch for Vandy as his game took the Dores defenders away from the basket where he nailed multiple mid range jump shots but was also tough to handle on the glass.
If MTSU continues to get consistent production from Potts, Upshaw and Williams, they will not only have a chance at winning the Conference USA championship but also go deep into March.
Learning on the Job for Willis
If Vanderbilt is to have any success this season, freshman Payton Willis needs to establish himself as the lead point guard. Riley LaChance is adequate at best running the show and is better suited off the ball. Willis is a talented player that is honestly still learning the point guard position but his ceiling to get better is high. He has shown glimpses this year of stellar play but has also shown immaturity and the lack of a feel for the position. Against MTSU, Willis played only 16 minutes with 2 points, 2 assists and 1 turnover. He never got into a flow against the Blue Raiders but if he did, things might have looked different for the Commodores offense.
Willis has the ability to be a solid distributor and lead guard of an offense with the ability to create his own shot and get to the line. An improving three point shot, Willis has shown range beyond the arc along with the size to rebound and play man to man defense. It's tough to ask a true freshman to take on such a large role but this team needs it and it could benefit everyone involved if Willis continues to improve in every facet of the game.
Stats & More
- Total of 26 fouls shots were taken on the night by both teams (MTSU - 8-13, VU - 8-13)
- MTSU out rebounded Vanderbilt 39-33
- Vanderbilt shot 32% from the field. MTSU shot a blazing 45%
- Vanderbilt played zone defense the majority of the night. Look for this to continue throughout the year as the Commodores lack in peremiter defense
- MTSU has now defeated three straight SEC opponents (Auburn, Ole Miss, Vandy)
- Potts, Upshaw and Williams went a combined 23-38 from the floor (60%)