Vanderbilt's NCAA Tournament appearance didn't last long as Northwestern defeated the Commodores 68-66 and eliminate the SEC program and move on to the second round of the West Region.
The Commodores trailed the entire way until taking the lead late with an opportunity to pull off a surprising win. Holding a 66-65 lead, Vanderbilt guard Matthew Fisher-Davis made a huge mistake by intentionally fouling Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh and putting him on the foul line. Fisher-Davis later admitted to thinking the Commodores were trailing at the time of the foul.
McIntosh nailed both foul shots and gave the Wildcats a 67-66 lead. Vanderbilt had one more shot at the win but the last offensive possession was not ran well as guard Riley LaChance heaved up a 30 foot three point shot that clanked on the back of the rim and virtually ended the Dores run in the NCAA Tournament.
The entire game was an uphill battle for the Dores. Another bad start from team put them behind and had them fighting back the rest of the way. Part of the deficit for Vanderbilt was Northwestern's hot shooting and solid play on the defensive end of the court.
The Wildcats shot a blazing 56% from the floor in the 1st half along with going 5-7 from three. Northwestern ranked 212th in the country in three point shooting percentage but shot way better than expected, especially McIntosh who was 3-3 from deep in the first period.
Vanderbilt trailed 34-27 at halftime and was lucky to have the score that close. The Commodores didn't play a good first half where they shot poorly, turned the ball over too much and three starters were held scoreless. Only being down seven at half was ok considering how the team played in the 1st half, so adjustments and a re-focus to the game was needed.
Much of the same was happening at the start of the 2nd half but quickly, Vanderbilt began to play with more effort and desire. The Commodores comeback was spearheaded by Fisher-Davis and his ability to knock down shots.
The junior guard was the lone Commodore who could create his own shot and knock it down on a consistent basis. Fisher-Davis led the team with 22 points going 7-15 from the field. Vanderbilt would not have had a chance to win the game had Fisher-Davis not scored the way he did.
Vanderbilt would make a game of things but in the end, the Commodores couldn't muster enough offense to defeat the Wildcats. Northwestern did a decent job of taking away the three from Vandy and the team didn't adjust the way they needed to. Too much standing around and lack of purpose by the players were evident too many times throughout the game.
The Commodores also had a hard time containing McIntosh. The junior guard was clutch from deep and did an excellent job of using the pick and roll while also penetrating the lane at ease. He finished with a game high 25 points going 10-16 from the field. McIntosh along with center Derek Pardon (14 pts, 11 boards) tore a part the Vanderbilt defense and there wasn't much that the Commodores could do about it.
LaChance chipped in 12 points but made several key plays down the stretch, helping the team get back into the game. Center Luke Kornet in his final game as a Commodore had 14 points along with 5 rebounds. The senior big man had a solid afternoon in his black and gold finale. His presence around the rim was big and for most of the game, he was the lone offensive threat.
Vanderbilt's season ends at 19-16 overall and in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament but all in all, it was a successful year for a team that was left for dead headed into conference play but found away to pull things together and play their way into the postseason.
Head Coach Bryce Drew did an excellent job of adjusting himself to his players in year one at Vanderbilt. He has breathed life into the Commodores basketball program and has the fan base excited about a bright future on the hardwood. Things might have ended earlier than people wanted but the future looks good for Vanderbilt basketball under the Drew Era.