"You never know," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said about his NCAA Tournament chances. "That's the only attitude we can have right now is you just don't know. For all I know this could end every chance we have or the rainbow might be waiting right outside the doorway. You just never know. We will have to keep going like we have a chance because you just never know what's going to happen."
What happened on Wednesday night was what Vanderbilt feared might happen – LSU would be too tough on the boards and guard Darrel Mitchell would burn them from the perimeter. The Tigers won the rebounding battle 46-29, with 20 of those coming at the offensive end. Twin towers Glen Davis (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Tyrus Thomas (15 points, 14 rebounds) proved too much for the Vanderbilt front line, and Mitchell chipped in with 21 points and five assists in 39 minutes of action.
"At the start of the second half, they were hitting some shots, and we spent the rest of the game trying to recover from that run," Stallings said. "I thought it was within reach there, but we were just unable to catch up."
Moore did not play after returning following a four-game medical leave of absence.
"He just needs to get a little more practice time," Stallings said. "He's been out for two weeks. We have to get him back in the flow."
Vanderbilt trailed 59-49 with 7:41 to play, but Byars suddenly caught fire, nailing three straight three-pointers to bring Vanderbilt to within 61-58. The Commodores had three possessions trailing by three, but Byars, Alex Gordon and Shan Foster missed consecutive three-point attempts, and LSU snatched the rebound each time. Mitchell answered at the other end with a three to push the LSU lead to 64-58.
The Dores climbed back to within 64-62 with 3:16 left, but LSU broke Vanderbilt's press with a Davis dunk, then the Tigers iced the game at the foul line from there, hitting 11 of 17 free throws in the final three minutes. Vanderbilt could never get in the flow offensively at the other end and soon was in desperation mode.
"We wanted to penetrate the ball," Stallings said. "You can't just stand out there and shoot threes. You have to attack the basket."
Foster had 13 first-half points, but scored just two in the second half after LSU made an adjustment on him defensively, switching on every screen. In the first half, the Kenner, La., native was instrumental in Vanderbilt building a 21-14 lead, but LSU fought back and took a 31-30 lead at the half when Mitchell hit a three-pointer with one second left.
Vanderbilt had a season low seven assists and shot just 37 percent from the floor.
"Right now, we're sitting at 5-8," Terrell said. "During my sophomore year, we finished 8-8 in the league (and received a bid) and last year we could have won one or two more to get in. I'm not too concerned over the NCAA Tournament. Whatever comes will come. We still have a few games left to play and we'll worry about the tournament when it is time."
Julian Terrell and Glen Davis (VM/Stan Jones)