Quick Thoughts on the Worst Game of the Season

First things first; a major show of respect to the Murray State Racers. We knew they were dangerous, but we didn't understand how clutch those guys are. With the exception of the bad pass turnover to Andre Walker in the final minute, these guys rose to the occasion and proved they belonged at the tournament. I wish them luck as the roll out to face Butler tomorrow.

Vanderbilt, on the other hand, doesn't get a next game. It looked like the Commodores would pull away with four minutes to go, as John Jenkins's three-pointer and follow-up jumper put the team up by four and seemingly in control. However, the Racers answered with six points on back-to-back three pointers in the next 34 seconds to steal back the momentum. Murray State stayed cool down the stretch for the most part, but threw the ball away with 28 seconds left to give Vanderbilt one last possession - and a chance to run out the clock. Jermaine Beal came up huge, going strong to the rack, drawing a foul, and sinking both of his free throws, but the team left MSU with 12 seconds. After a missed three caromed off Walker and out of bounds, Murray State capitalized on their second chance when Danero Thomas buried a jumper from a few steps inside the arc. The Racers celebrated while the Commodores - and all their fans - looked like they were in serious need of some Wild Turkey.

So how did you deal with the loss? I stared numbly at the screen for a while, hoping the shot would be waived off for coming after the buzzer (not even close), then cracked a beer as I sank back slowly in my chair. Almost instantaneously, I was reminded by my former roommate that "We should have never left the island," which has now become my go-to quote for Vandy failures. For yesterday, at least, college basketball was dead to me - so it was a good thing that the day's best games happened in those first few hours. In the end, I could only be thankful that Georgetown's de-pantsing took some of the focus off Vanderbilt - much like UConn losing to San Diego did in 2008.

Some thoughts on the game - if you can handle rehashing it.

  • Murray State's hyperactive zone flummoxed the Commodores - In my article Tuesday, I broke down teams' inability to score against the Racers in Murray State wins, and hypothesized that if Vanderbilt could turn the game into a shootout, they would win. Easier said than done. The Racers were active on defense and denied Vanderbilt any easy passes, disrupting their game flow and slowing down what should have been the superior offense for the day. Hats off to MSU coach Billy Kennedy for a great defensive scheme.
  • It was Jeffery Taylor's first time there...and it showed - Taylor's aggression in the first half was encouraging, but clearly the kid was dealing with butterflies as he stepped to the free throw line, missing three of his first four. His shot wasn't falling and though his drives were effective, he couldn't sink his free throws, which stifled his offense. To compensate, he got overzealous on the defensive end and ended up in foul trouble - playing just 21 minutes. Hopefully Taylor learns from the experience and comes back stronger, because this team will need him to get back to the Sweet Sixteen.
  • John Jenkins wants the ball with the game on the line - Jenkins proved that he belongs (although it wasn't really in question) with 36 minutes played in his first NCAA Tournament game as a freshman. His shooting gave the Commodores their first lead in the second half, and it was clear that when he got the ball, he wasn't content to give it up. It's great to see him stepping up, but he needs to work on his passing game to become the well-rounded player that Vanderbilt will need to lead this team in the next few years.
  • No, seriously...why doesn't this team crash the boards? - It seemed like every time a shot went up - regardless of the team on offense - white jerseys were the minority around the basket. In the final five minutes of the game, Vanderbilt had one individual rebound. One! And even that was the result of a hustle play from Andre Walker, keeping the ball alive in the middle of three Murray State players before Jeffery Taylor snatched it. Vandy gave up 13 offensive rebounds on the day and got out-rebounded as a whole against a smaller MSU team.
  • Free-throw shooting killed, well, both teams - Neither team shot over 60%. As easy as it would be to pin this one on misses from the line, Murray State had problems there as well. Was it a problem? Absolutely. Was it the reason Vanderbilt lost? No. They lost because Alex Gordon punched a gypsy before the 2008 season, leading to a horrible curse.
  • Goodbye, Jermaine Beal - Sorry to send you out like that, Dolla. Hopefully you play your way into the NBA Draft at the Portsmouth Invitational camp and we get to see you keep playing in America. Neither nbadraft.net or Draft Express have your name in their databases, but we all know you can prove them wrong. Hell, if Sundiata Gaines got a contract, you should be just fine.
Well, that's it for men's basketball, but we can still latch our unfulfilled hopes to the women's team, who have a chance to play into April with a six seed and a favorable draw. For now, we'll just have to deal with the fact that what was Coach Stallings's most talented team just got bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round. Hopefully the experience only makes them stronger for next year.
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