The game was a seesaw battle for much of the first half. Memphis used a short run near the end of the half to take a 36-29 lead to the locker room.
In the second half the Tigers vaulted to a double-digit lead behind the scoring of Carney and Washington.
However, missed free throws and turnovers would doom the Commodores. Duane Erwin's lay-up put Memphis ahead 62-49 with 6:10 remaining in the second half. Free throws by Washington put the Tigers ahead 75-60 with 2:49 remaining.
Vanderbilt's Foster connected on a 3-point shot with 2:14 remaining but it wouldn't be enough. Memphis (22-15) held on to win, 81-68, for the right to face St. Joseph's in the NIT semifinals in New York's Madison Square Garden.
It was a disappointing and frustrating final game for the three Vanderbilt seniors. Corey Smith, who fouled out with a minute remaining, finished with 6 points, giving him a total of 950 points for his four-year career at Vanderbilt. Jason Holwerda had 4 points, which increased his career total to 604 points. Polish big man Dawid Przybyszewski had 5 points to finish with a total of 806 points.
Vanderbilt is now 18-9 all time in the National Invitational Tournament and won the tournament in 1990 by defeating St. Louis, 74-72.