Lowery: Hogs fought like cornered animals

Despite a 43 point offensive effort in the second half, the Commodores were unable to defeat a physically tough Razorback squad on Saturday. The game ultimately came down to Arkansas' major advantages in freethrows and rebounding. Arkansas out-rebounded the Commodores 39 to 20, while sinking 9 more freethrows than Vanderbilt even attempted.

The ‘Dores came out to a slow paced start in the first half. Suffering two shot-clock violations and failing to get off a shot before the buzzer sounded in the first half, Vanderbilt's offense seemed too stagnant to be effective. Meanwhile, the Commodores' defensive efforts were short-circuited by the number of offensive rebounds and second-chance points made available to the Razorbacks. Derrick Byars seemed to be the only effective Commodore scoring threat in the first half, with two crucial three-pointers to keep Vanderbilt in the game. At halftime, the score was 34-23. The Razorbacks held an 11 point lead, having outscored Vanderbilt 22-11 since the game was last tied at 12 points apiece.

Coach Kevin Stallings said before the game that he thought Vanderbilt would benefit by playing at a slower than usual pace against Arkansas. Whether that slow pace caused the early offensive difficulties, fans might never know. However, Stallings' slow-pace gameplan was abandoned at halftime, as Vanderbilt's large deficit forced the team to play quickly in hopes of eventually erasing Arkansas' 11 point lead. Thanks to some more clutch shooting by Byars, who had 17 points on the night, Vanderbilt had the chance to get back in the game. Shan Foster's performance in the second half was remarkable, and the duo of Commodore wing players carried Vanderbilt to a tied game late in the first half. Foster had 22 points, including 17 in the second half. Alex Gordon was also an integral part of the 2nd half comeback, scoring in double digits while effectively distributing the ball. 13 minutes into the 2nd half, the score was tied at 55-55.

However, it was not a good final seven minutes for the ‘Dores. Mario Moore was burned on what some described as "lazy" passes, and the Razorbacks went on an 11-2 run. Down by nine points with just over three minutes to play, Vanderbilt had essentially erased all of their early second half gains, and the Hogs prevailed by a final score of 78-66.

It was a long trip home for the Commodores. After a historic win at Rupp Arena, the away-game loss to a tough Arkansas squad took the wind out of the players' sails. Julian Terrell and Mario Moore were seen later on Saturday night at a Vanderbilt-area liquor store, perhaps trying to wipe the day's disappointment from their minds. Indeed, both seniors had disappointing performances in this taxing matchup. Moore's mistakes late in the game helped the Razorbacks turn the tide, and Terrell seemed to struggle against the sheer physicality shown by Arkansas' post players. The game was refereed fairly, but the level of physical play allowed by referees was higher than normal – Vanderbilt has historically suffered in loosely-officiated games. Many fouls were called in the second half, especially against the Commodores, as both Ted Skuchas and Julian Terrell fouled out of the game; for Terrell, it was the first time this season that he has fouled out.

Vanderbilt's trouble collecting defensive rebounds was a crucial part of the defeat, and Ronnie Brewer was the leading rebounder for Arkansas (11 overall, 5 offensive). All year long, Vanderbilt's perimeter players have had a hard time keeping rebounds away from their counterparts. Arkansas' three starting guards – Brewer, Jefferson, and Modica -- collected 9 offensive rebounds and 21 overall rebounds. Vanderbilt's entire team grabbed only 8 offensive rebounds and 19 overall.

Arkansas' freethrow advantage was largely a result of the foul disparity between the two teams. Vanderbilt was called for 24 personal fouls, while Arkansas was only whistled for 15. Also, at one point in the game it appeared that Alex Gordon was in danger of collecting a costly technical foul for saying something inappropriate to a referee. Terrell and Skuchas fouled out, while Byars and DeMarre Carroll each collected four fouls.

With the foul trouble, freethrows, and rebounding disparity, one might wonder how Vanderbilt lost by only 12 points. The two best answers to this question were turnovers and three point shooting. Vanderbilt sunk 11 of their 22 three point attempts, including 3-3 shooting by Alex Gordon and 4-7 shooting by both Shan Foster and Derrick Byars. Also, the ‘Dores turned the ball over 11 times while Arkansas suffered 18 turnovers. Vanderbilt continues to lead the SEC in fewest turnovers allowed.

Every Arkansas player fought like a cornered animal in order to win this game. Among the least-expected stars was reserve forward Charles Thomas. Thomas, who averages only 8 points and 4 rebounds per game this season, collected 15 points only only five shots. Meanwhile, Ronnie Brewer and Jonathon  Modica starred at guard positions for the Razorbacks. Brewer's 11 rebounds may have been the difference in the game for Arkansas, and he also collected nine points. Modica scored 19 points, including 8 made freethrows, accounting for much of the freethrow disparity between the two squads. Jefferson was also impressive from the point guard position, collecting 6 assists.

Vanderbilt was once again led by its core of three consistent performers – Shan Foster, Julian Terrell, and Derrick Byars. Foster was the leading scorer with 22 points on 15 shots – he also added two rebounds and an assist on the night, despite being almost invisible during the first half. Julian Terrell, on the other had, scored only 10 points on his 12 shots, and collected a disappointing three rebounds. However, Ted Skuchas' playing time was limited to only 19 minutes by constant foul trouble, and Terrell's consistent post presence kept Vanderbilt in the game. Vanderbilt's MVP was certainly Derrick Byars. Byars hit important shots while the rest of the team seemed to be sleepwalking, and his 17 points reflect only one dimension of his performance. Derrick also played 37 much-needed minutes for the Commodores, while collected a team-high 5 rebounds, a team-high 6 assists, and one of Vanderbilt's four steals on the night.

Alex Gordon scored 11 points on 4 shots in a reserve role, but Mario Moore's performance was disappointing from the point guard position. Moore made only one of his five shots and caused three Commodore turnovers while earning only one assist. This performance could create another nightmare scenario at the point guard position – most Vanderbilt fans think that consistency at the point is critical for the team, but that consistency cannot take root while Moore underperforms Gordon while Moore is recognized as the starter.

Unfortunately, VandyMania's pregame prediction was correct. Vanderbilt played with low energy throughout the game, perhaps due to the "let-down situation" after the huge win at Rupp. Brewer's near miss of a double-double reflected an all-around all-SEC performance against the Commodores, while Vanderbilt's "road soldier" mindset couldn't cope with Arkansas' physical brand of defense.

After a day this rough, who could blame Moore and Terrell for drinking away the pain of this disappointing performance?

Vanderbilt continues its season on Wednesday with a return to Memorial to face the South Carolina Gamecocks. South Carolina, who lost on Saturday to Georgia in overtime, will be another physically tough opponent. However, the Commodores will be glad to revisit Memorial after playing four of their last five games on the road. If the Commodores win on Wednesday, their 3-1 conference mark would be a great start to SEC play. And even if they lose, Vanderbilt fans should remember that Vanderbilt's fourth loss last season came in their eighth game. This team has come a long way in just one year, and Coach Stallings and company intend to take the team even further as March approaches.

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