Vanderbilt, currently the 13th place team out of 14 SEC teams, came into Coleman Coliseum and got their first SEC road win of the season, effectively extinguishing any faint remaining hope we may have held about making the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid.
Vandy is better than their record, but they are still a bad team and this was a bad loss, especially at home. Even without Tarrant, we are the more skilled and talented team and should not lose to those guys.
Regardless of Vanderbilt's talent level, it seems like there are a few things you can always count on when we play the Dores. First, regardless of their stats coming in, if we leave them open on the perimeter, they will make 3's. Secondly, they will get the majority of the calls from the officials. Finally, they will execute their half-court offense with precision. This game was no different.
We played fairly well in the first half and actually controlled the game on the glass. Despite Levi not having a great first half, we were in position to take a 6 or 7 point lead into the half, with Retin on the line shooting 1 and 1 with 10 seconds left. Instead, he missed the front end, we got beat down the court, picked up a foul and Kessens' said something to pick up a technical foul. Of course Vandy hit all 4 free throws to cut the lead to 1. With 2.3 seconds left and facing a press, we decided to throw the ball long and over everybody's head out-of-bounds, despite the fact that we still had the "use it or lose it" timeout. We still managed to limp into the locker room with a 1 point lead.
Vandy attacked the basket and got to the free throw line in the second half. While there were a few bad calls, I think most of the fouls on us were good calls. We were constantly out of position on defense, and while we shot the ball well offensively, making 11 of 24 from three-point range, we generally did not play aggressively enough to get to the line.
Our press has been ineffective most of the year, but it seemed to bother Vandy when we finally decided to utilize it. Unfortunately, we waited till late in the first half to do so, and did not press enough in the second half in my opinion. I would have pressed them most of the game, and settled into a zone if and when they beat it. There was a stretch in the second half where we had Riley and Kessens in the game, but insisted on playing a man to man defense. Riley couldn't keep up with his man while chasing him around the perimeter, and Kessesns was late to help when he got beat driving to the basket.
For once, Jimmie Taylor managed to stay out of foul trouble, and I thought he played really well when he was in the game in the first half. He had 7 points and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes. If anybody has a good explanation for why he only played 19 minutes despite only picking up 3 fouls, particularly when he's our only reliable defender around the rim, as Vandy's Damian Jones scored at will on us in the second half, I would love to hear it. It makes absolutely no sense for Jimmie Taylor's butt to be glued to the bench for nearly the entire second half. Inexplicably not playing Jimmie Taylor for most of the game, poor defensive set calling (not pressing enough and too much man), and the cluster-you-know-what at the end of the first half were the key ingredients in this embarrassing loss.
If you are looking for some positives, as mentioned above we actually shot the ball well. We out rebounded them, but they dominated the boards in the final minutes when the game was on the line. Levi bounced back and had a great second half, finishing with 15 points. Hale had another good game with 10 points and 6 boards. Retin played well in his return, also scoring 10 points and making some great plays on defense. The effort from the players was good, and that's never been an issue with this team. I really do appreciate how they play the game and represent our University. We are fortunate to have these guys. Nevertheless, the inexplicable strategies employed and nonsensical substitution patterns which led to this ridiculous loss are unacceptable and inexcusable.
The crowd was surprisingly decent for two bad teams playing on Valentine's night. I would estimate around 7,000 or so, and they invited the folks in the rafters to move down and sit closer to the court, which at least enhanced the atmosphere, if not the basketball knowledge of those sitting in my immediate vicinity. It was good to see Trevor Releford and Ben Eblen in attendance. For what it's worth, Bill Battle also showed up, and he seems to be becoming a regular now that football signing day is over. Given that he's the athletic director and Men's basketball is one of two revenue sports, I would argue that he should be a regular from day one, but I digress.
Up next, we go to auburn to take on scumbag Bruce Pearl's tigers/eagles/plainsmen/village idiots or whatever they want to be called these days. They are a crappy team, but they've got a couple of good players and there's no doubt they will play dirty and take a win-at-all-costs approach to this game. It will likely be the most difficult road environment we've played in all year. The game tips off at 8 pm CST Tuesday night on ESPNU.