SEC MEN’S BASKETBALL ARKANSAS AT VANDERBILT:

Vandy not dandy: Hogs one of ’Dores’ last shots at SEC win

By: Bob Holt
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew watches the action in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Florida Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew watches the action in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Florida Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes doesn't believe Vanderbilt is going winless in the SEC.

Barnes said Monday during the SEC coaches teleconference that he's not backing down from his statement after the Vols rallied to beat the Commodores in overtime 88-83 at Memorial Gym on Jan. 23.

"I said back when we played them there, I think they're going to beat somebody," Barnes said. "And I still believe that."

Vanderbilt (9-20, 0-16 SEC) is running out of chances to prove Barnes correct.

The Commodores finish the regular season this week by playing the University of Arkansas (15-14, 6-10) at 7:30 tonight in Memorial Gym, and going on the road to face No. 10 LSU (24-5, 14-2) on Saturday.

"If they're going to beat somebody, we don't want that to be us," Arkansas sophomore guard Mason Jones said. "We don't want to take them for granted.

"We need to make sure we come in and do what we need to do to get a W, because we're still in the hunt for something."

The Razorbacks are trying to improve their seeding for the SEC Tournament and secure a first-round bye when they return to Nashville next week.

Motivation for the Commodores includes avoiding the first losing record at Memorial Gym in 67 seasons as their home, and not suffering the first winless season by a team in SEC play in 64 years.

Vanderbilt is 802-235 all-time at Memorial Gym, but a loss tonight in the home finale will drop the Commodores to 8-10 this season. The only time Vanderbilt hasn't finished with a winning record at Memorial Gym was during the 1969-70 season when the Commodores were 7-7.

Georgia Tech -- which is now in the Atlantic Coast Conference -- is the last team to go winless in the SEC with a 0-14 record during the 1953-1954 season.

The only two seasons the Commodores didn't win an SEC game -- in 1943-1944 and 1944-1945 -- they didn't play any conference games during World War II.

Vanderbilt's fewest SEC victories were during the 1945-46 season when the Commodores finished 2-5. Their previous worst SEC record with an 18-game schedule was 4-14 during the 1984-85 season.

No SEC team ever has lost 18 conference games. Two teams have finished 1-17: LSU in 1966-1967 and Alabama in 1968-1969.

Despite Vanderbilt having a school-record 17-game losing streak -- including an 86-55 pounding at Oklahoma in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge -- the Commodores haven't given up.

"With the season that we've had, I think winning [tonight] would be the best win of my career," said guard Joe Toye, Vanderbilt's lone senior who has played on two NCAA Tournament teams. "It would feel better than any win I've gotten here."

Toye scored 18 points when Vanderbilt played at Arkansas earlier this season, including a three-pont basket that gave the Commodores a 66-64 lead with 39.4 seconds left.

The Razorbacks came back to win 69-66 when Keyshawn Embery-Simpson hit a three-pointer with 14.8 seconds left, Jalen Harris drew a charge from Saben Lee, Jones hit 2 of 2 free throws, and Matt Ryan's last-second three-point attempt bounced off the rim.

"It was a one-possession game," Vanderbilt Coach Bryce Drew said. "Hopefully, that possession will be in our favor this time."

Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said the Commodores are a dangerous team.

"I know they've had some tough losses," Anderson said. "But at the same time, Bryce Drew has those kids still playing and still believing.

"So we're going to have our work cut out for us as we go over there and play against Vandy. I know for a fact, whenever you go somewhere in this league, man, you've got to come with it. So that's going to be our mindset."

Vanderbilt has had other competitive SEC games in addition to its loss at home to Tennessee and at Arkansas.

South Carolina beat the Commodores 74-71 after Vanderbilt led 71-70 with 30 seconds left. Mississippi State overcame a three-point Vanderbilt lead with less than 10 minutes left to win 71-55. Kentucky beat Vanderbilt 56-47 at Rupp Arena after trailing 30-28 at halftime.

Texas A&M rallied to beat Vanderbilt 64-57 on Saturday at home after the Commodores jumped out to a 15-2 lead. Vanderbilt was within four points of Auburn with less than five minutes left before the Tigers pulled away to win 64-53.

"We've been in so many games in this stretch," Drew said. "There are quite a few games we easily could have won. Every game our guys have come in, and they've been focused. We've played well enough to be in games.

"The big thing for us is being able to close the game. Obviously, that's the big step we're trying to overcome."

Barnes, whose Vols beat Vanderbilt 58-46 at home to complete a sweep, said the Commodores had to rebuild their team after losing star freshman point guard Darius Garland to a season-ending knee injury in the fifth game.

Garland, a McDonald's High School All-American, averaged 19.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists in four games before going down against Kent State. He already has declared for the NBA Draft.

"You look at Vanderbilt, and you have to really respect the players and the coaching staff for how hard they play, how competitive they've been, because that's really, really hard to do when you've lost that many games in a row," Barnes said. "From the outside looking in, I can tell you they're doing a better job than you probably even can imagine.

"To me, that's really coaching, when you've got your back against the wall and you can't seem to catch a break, but your guys continue to listen -- which you can tell they're doing that."

Florida beat the Commodores 66-57 at Memorial Gym and 71-55 at home.

"They've had a lot of adversity, but they're always going to be prepared," Gators Coach Mike White said. "They're always going to compete at a high level."

Drew said he's had his players watch motivational videos and listen to speakers with uplifting messages.

"Even though the wins haven't come, we have seen improvement with our guys," Drew said. "We're not that far off. We have to keep pressing into it, and hopefully those wins are going to come soon."

The Razorbacks just hope Vanderbilt's first SEC victory doesn't come tonight.

Arkansas men at Vanderbilt

WHEN 7:30 p.m. Central today

WHERE Memorial Gym, Nashville, Tenn.

RECORDS Arkansas 15-14, 6-10 SEC;

Vanderbilt 9-20, 0-16

SERIES Arkansas leads 25-12.

RADIO Razorback Sports Network

TELEVISION SEC Network

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS

VANDERBILT

POS. NAME, HT., YR. PPG RPG

G Lee Saben, 6-2, So. 12.7 3.6

G Joe Toye, 6-7, Sr. 7.2 3.0

F Simisola Shittu, 6-10, Fr. 11.5 6.9

F Aaron Nesmith, 6-6, Fr. 11.3 5.7

F Clevon Brown, 6-8, Jr. 3.3 2.8

COACH Bryce Drew (40-56 in three seasons at Vanderbilt, 164-105 in seven seasons overall)

ARKANSAS

POS. NAME, HT., YR. PPG RPG

G Jalen Harris, 6-2, So. 8.2 2.7

G Isaiah Joe, 6-5, Fr. 14.1 2.6

G Desi Sills, 6-2, Fr. 4.3 1.2

F Daniel Gafford, 6-11, So. 16.5 8.7

F Gabe Osabuohien, 6-8, So. 3.0 2.8

COACH Mike Anderson (166-100 in eight seasons at Arkansas, 366-198 in 17 seasons overall)

TEAM COMPARISON

Vanderbilt – Arkansas

69.7 Points for 75.8

71.8 Points against 73.8

+0.4 Rebound margin -4.5

-2.8 Turnover margin +3.0

42.7 FG pct. 44.6

31.8 3-pt pct. 33.4

67.9 FT pct. 65.9

CHALK TALK Arkansas has a three-game winning streak against Vanderbilt, including a 69-66 victory Feb. 5 in Walton Arena. Daniel Gafford led the Razorbacks with 28 points, Isaiah Joe scored 18 and Keyshawn Embery-Simpson hit a three-point basket with 14.8 seconds left to give Arkansas a 67-66 lead. … Vanderbilt has lost a schoolrecord 17 consecutive games since beating North Carolina-Asheville 90-59 on Dec. 31. … Joe has hit 100 three-point baskets, two shy of the Arkansas record of 102 by Scotty Thurman in 1995. … Gafford is shooting an SEC-leading 65.9 percent (189 of 287) from the field. … The Razorbacks are 6-8 at Vanderbilt, but have won their last two games there, 77-75 in 2014 and 71-70 in 2017.

Sports on 03/06/2019

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