Let's try something new today: a (weekly?) openthread discussion about Vandy athletics. Today's topic: the best Vandy basketball game you've ever seen live.
For me, the answer is a no-brainer. It was the last Commodore basketball game that I attended as a student. It's a good thing I was there live, because the Senior Night game of 2008 wasn't being shown ANYWHERE on television. Unfortunately, that meant that Shan Foster's heroics in the last game he'd ever play in Memorial Gym were only seen by a select few that March.
Memorial didn't seem like a magical place on March 5, 2008. Spring Break had stripped the student section down to its bare bones. The athletic department had anticipated this and sold leftover seats behind the emaciated Memorial Maniacs to a contingent of Mississippi State fans who proved that they didn't need cowbells to be loud. By the time State jumped out to a 21-14 lead, Vandy's home court sounded like a neutral site.
This game had several implications for the #16 Commodores. Their 18-0 home record had peaked a week earlier when they defeated #1 Tennessee at home. Now, they held Senior Night with a chance to finish the season unbeaten at home. More importantly, the game was the final home appearance for seniors Foster, Ross Neltner, Alex Gordon, and Alan Metcalfe. Despite the thin crowd, the stakes were incredibly high in Nashville that evening.
The Commodores had trouble rising to the occasion. Whenever Vandy scored, Mississippi State seemed to have an answer. Burly combo guard Jamont Gordon exploited Vanderbilt's biggest weakness by using his athleticism out of the backcourt to score at the rim. When Vandy went on an 8-0 run to take the lead midway through the second half, Gordon and Jarvis Varnado teamed up to give the Bulldogs the advantage with a 9-0 run of their own. No matter what Vandy did, it seemed like they just couldn't get over the hump to deliver that perfect home season against MSU.
Then Shan Foster started to feel it. Foster, the bulldozer that pushed the Vandy offense, had started the evening by missing his first six three-point attempts. Then, with about 10 minutes left in the game, he hit a big one to tie the game at 46-all. Then, seconds later, he gave Vanderbilt their first lead of the game with another triple. Even though Mississippi State would pull back ahead, the stage was set for one of the biggest moments to ever take place in Memorial Gym.
Foster's presence was unlike any other I'd ever seen on a basketball court. State scored four straight points? Foster was there to answer with a three. State wants to double Foster out to 30-feet? Didn't matter, Foster was there to answer with a three. Bulldog guard Ben Hansbrough is playing tight enough defense to kiss Shan on the lips when he rises up for a shot? Physics be damned, Foster was there to answer with a three. Over the last 7:52 in regulation, Vanderbilt didn't make a shot from the field that didn't come from long range. Foster had 12 points in that span.
When Jamont Gordon's potentially game-winning shot clanged off the rim as time expired, Foster was granted five more minutes to work his magic. Not even an excessively-long injury time out could cool him. However, the Bulldogs were in no position to roll over. State took an early lead in overtime and fended off Vandy's offense for the next 4:59.
Things for Vandy looked bleak in the final minute. The 'Dores trailed by three when Foster slipped down the baseline to drive a Jermaine Beal alley-oop pass home, but State answered with a clutch trey to make it 84-80 with 35 seconds left on the clock. The 'Dores needed some major points, and fast. Everyone in that gym knew who was getting the ball.
Shan Foster peeled off a Beal screen, dribbled once out to a spot about 30 feet from the hoop, and calmly buried another three-pointer. Vandy 83, Mississippi State 84. The 'Dores fouled seconds later, and Hansbrough made one of two free throws to make it 85-83. That gave Vanderbilt the opportunity to hold for the last shot of the game. A weary crowd, energized by Foster's improbable dominance, rose behind the team as the second ticked away.
After burning some clock, Vandy point guard Alex Gordon held the ball behind the arc. He threw up a pair of shot fakes, and then found Foster in the backcourt with about four seconds to go. MSU guard Barry Stewart had sucked into the paint on Gordon's pump fake, but quickly recovered to go chest-to-chest with Foster as he rose up for the shot. Didn't matter. Everyone at Memorial Gym knew what the outcome was going to be. State fans went silent as soon as Foster got the ball. Their collective sigh was quickly overtaken by a tidal wave of Vandy cheers as Foster's shot ripped through the net. Commodores 86, Bulldogs 85. Perfect home season confirmed.
Foster wasn't the only Commodore to have a big game. Ross Neltner had 11 rebounds. Jermaine Beal tossed out seven assists. Keegan Bell was there. But in the end, the senior guard was the only player who mattered. The emotional Louisianan shone his brightest in front of his family in the last game he'd ever play at Memorial Gym. Shan Foster's career night may have been the most incredible individual athletic performance I've ever seen.
So what was the best Vanderbilt men's basketball game you've ever seen live? Get the discussion going in the comments below.