Super Mario is back!

"Super Mario" is back. On a night in which Derrick Byars scored 20 points on 8 shots and Julian Terrell had 12 points and 5 rebounds, Mario Moore stole the show. With 15 points and only one turnover, Mario ended the game with an amazing last second three-pointer to put the Commodores ahead by one as the buzzer rang.

The story starts with Mario Moore's attitude. Mario has gone through a lot, culminating in a suspension that cost him the first three games of his senior season. Coach Stallings had high praise for Mario's attitude ever since he began serving his suspension. "That ball went in because his attitude has been fantastic… if his attitude hadn't been good, I don't believe in my heart that shot is going in." Coach Stallings noticed several "little things" which indicated that Mario's mindset this season was exceptionally positive. "He [Mario] went out of his way to encourage Red… He has always been ready to play, whenever he goes in. He has a great disposition with other teammates. I got a phone call from a player saying that it's the best he's seen Mario in his four years. Great attitude is rewarded."

Coach Stallings's praise for Mario hit home. "In this life I have been through a lot," said Moore after the game. "I have just had great support from coaches, the administration… I've just kept my head up." Mario's teammates also gave him a lot of support. Derrick Byars talked about the team's support of Mario: "We're brothers, and we're going to get through this. It's in the past." Moore did his part to put the suspension in the past after the game: "I would like to apologize to every Vanderbilt fan [for my actions]." The team seems to have really come together and supported Mario, and Mario has shown maturity and leadership since his suspension.

Despite the unity and attitude, the Commodores found themselves down by two points with 3.3 seconds left on the clock. Vanderbilt took two consecutive timeouts to draw up the play that they would count on to tie or win the game. Coach Stallings is known for being one of the best inbounds-play designers in the country, but surprisingly he does not typically rely on predesigned plays in his endgame situations. "For the most part I just wing it… more often than not, it's just a feel." Stallings' decision to call a second consecutive timeout may have been the result of some indecision in the huddle. "We were thinking about advancing the ball and calling a timeout." That's obviously not the gameplan that the Commodores settled on.

As the Dores broke out of the timeout, they took the court with Shan Foster and Derrick Byars deep on Vanderbilt's offensive side of the court, split in the corners of the court next to Vanderbilt's bench and the baseline. Mario Moore and Ted Skuchas lined up near opposite sidelines, just short of midcourt, and DeMarre Carroll got ready to inbound the basketball. DeMarre Carroll said after the game "I knew the whole time that I was giving the ball to Mario."

Oregon's head coach, Ernie Kent, seemed to know where the ball was going as well. Right before the officials handed Carroll the ball, Kent shouted at reserve forward Ivan Johnson to play off of Ted Skuchas, in hopes that the Ducks could force DeMarre to inbound the ball to somebody besides Mario Moore. DeMarre sent the pass to Mario in stride, and Moore quickly headed across the half-court line.

Mario kept his mind and his eyes on the clock as it began to tick down. Coach Stallings told him during the timeout that three seconds is just enough time for three dribbles, and that's exactly the number of dribbles that Moore took. Mario let go of the shot with almost a full second left on the clock because Shan's defender was approaching to double team him. "It felt good when I let it go," said Moore. "I had a dream last night… I dreamed that. True story."

Mario might have known when he let the ball go, but everybody else had to wait a little bit longer. Coach Stallings might have known a little bit before most of the fans though: "When it was halfway there, I watched that ball and I said ‘that's in.'" The crowd didn't seem to react until the Vanderbilt bench and players started celebrating. The noise of the ensuing crowd hysteria probably still has every fan's ears ringing.

Every victorious player piled on top of Mario in pure joy. After a couple of minutes, the team approached the student section to slap the hands of the fans who had helped spark the comeback. "The fans brought it tonight… we fed off that intensity," said Mario. "An Oregon player asked me… ‘Is this gonna be a packed game?' I said ‘yeah, I think so'. I guess I was right… [the fans] stuck with us to the end." Fans and players celebrated the team's 5-0 start together.

Coach Stallings told the players after the game that the victory was a little bit luck, a little bit skill, but "we'll take it."

Notes

  • Coach Stallings also made it clear that there would be "no quarterback controversy" between Mario Moore and Alex Gordon at the point guard position. He did not comment on who would be chosen to start the Cincinnati game a week from Saturday.
  • Shan Foster commented on the team's difficulties defending Oregon's Malik Hairston (25 points, 10 rebounds, 4/5 3pt). "The man just didn't miss," said Foster. The Commodores' initial gameplan was to play off of Malik and let him try to shoot three pointers all night. Coach Stallings didn't see Hairston as a shooting threat before the game, but at halftime Stallings told the team that Hairston "as made a believer out of me."
  • Stallings said that the key to the comeback from 11 points down was a defensive change. "We went to the zone, and the zone bothered them… then we became more aggressive."
  • Derrick Byars turned in a great performance with 20 points and 5 rebounds on 8 shots. Mario Moore commented that "DB just saddled up and put us on his back. It just shows that he's a really good player and leader." Byars added that "When it got to crunch time… Mario, JT and I are the vets. We've just got to step up."

Mario and Derrick did step up when it got to crunch time, and that was the difference in the game.

Photo above by Bryce Wells

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