Razorbacks report:

Vandy not acting like a doormat

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018
Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew yells to his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew yells to his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Vanderbilt is alone at the bottom of the SEC standings, but the Commodores haven't looked like a last-place team in recent games.

The Commodores (9-15, 3-8) come into tonight's game against the Arkansas Razorbacks in Walton Arena off an 81-66 victory over Georgia on Wednesday night at home.

Vanderbilt shot a season-high 55 percent from the field (27 of 49), including 11 of 24 three-pointers, and hit all 16 of its free throws.

Over the past six games Vanderbilt is 3-3, including home victories over LSU 77-71 and TCU 81-78. The Commodores' losses in that span have been 67-62 at No. 15 Tennessee, 83-81 in overtime at No. 24 Kentucky and 93-81 at No. 8 Auburn.

"It's a team that's coming together, and they're coming together at the right time of the year," Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson said. "You can't look at their record. They're playing really, really good right now."

Vanderbilt's record also is reflective of a tough nonconference schedule that included road losses at Belmont (19-7) and Arizona State (18-6); neutral site losses to Virginia (23-1) and Seton Hall (17-7); and home losses to Southern California (17-8), Kansas State (17-7) and Middle Tennessee State (19-5).

Commodores Coach Bryce Drew praised his team's attitude after the Georgia game when asked about improvements.

"I think a lot of it is about character," Drew said. "Just personal character with our individuals. That's what has allowed them to be resilient, even during the tough stretches we've been in."

Homecoming for Willis

Tonight's game will be the second time Vanderbilt guard Payton Willis, a sophomore from Fayetteville, has played back home against the Razorbacks.

Willis had a season-high 13 points and five rebounds against Georgia. In 23 games this season, including three starts, he's averaging 5.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 17.3 minutes per game.

In Vanderbilt's 72-59 victory over the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville last season in Walton Arena, Willis scored eight points.

Road struggles

Vanderbilt is 0-8 on the road this season, including 0-6 in SEC games.

"Winning on the road as we all know is really hard, and it's harder this year in the SEC than as far back as I can remember," Commodores Coach Bryce Drew said. "Closing out games is something we've got to continue to improve at.

"We give so much energy to stay in the game or have a lead early, sometimes it gets down to the last five minutes and the other team picks it up a level on their home court and we've already played at our highest level for the first 35 minutes.

"So somehow we have to be able to extend that high level for 40 minutes and hopefully a team will miss some shots at the clutch time there on the road."

No Fisher-Davis

Vanderbilt lost senior forward Matthew Fisher-Davis to a season-ending shoulder injury after 16 games.

Without Fisher-Davis, who averaged 11.9 points and 5.1 rebounds, the Commodores top players are senior forward Jeff Roberson (16.3 points, 7.2 rebounds) and senior guard Riley LaChance (13.0 points).

"When you put your offense in at the beginning of the year, you put a lot of things in to help your best offensive players, and our three seniors are the ones we centered around," Vanderbilt Coach Bryce Drew said. "Matt's the most explosive scorer we had returning. We've had to tweak some of the things we do on the offensive end with his absence."

Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson praised Drew for how the Commodores have adjusted their lineup, which includes three freshman starters in Lee Saben, Maxwell Evans and Ejike Obinna.

"They've scored over 80 points in the last four games," Anderson said. "So that's a sign that they're getting better. They're getting comfortable not having Fisher-Davis.

"Sometimes with subtraction, you get addition, because now other guys get an opportunity to showcase what they can do."

Last time in Fayetteville

After Arkansas rallied from a 15-point deficit with less than six minutes left to win 71-70 at Vanderbilt last season, the Commodores came into Walton Arena two weeks later and beat the Razorbacks 72-59.

The margin in Fayetteville wasn't as close as the final score indicated as Vanderbilt jumped out to a 25-4 lead in the first nine minutes and never trailed by fewer than 12 points the rest of the game.

"They came in and played awfully well here," Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson said. "We want to make sure they're a little bit more uncomfortable than they were last year."

Vanderbilt Coach Bryce Drew said it was one of the better games the Commodores played last season, and they caught the Razorbacks having an off night.

"I think as a coach you look and have a game here or there where you don't play as well as you would like," Drew said. "I would say if Arkansas pointed to one game all year, that would be the one game they'd point to. We all have those as teams."

81 times 4

Vanderbilt has scored 81 points in each of its past four games. The Commodores beat TCU 81-78, lost at Kentucky 83-81 in overtime, lost at Auburn 93-81 and beat Georgia 81-66.

Sports on 02/10/2018

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