All Vanderbilt needed to do to essentially lock down an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament was beat a team it had blown out twice before in 2016. It turns out that's no easy task when the team in question is your arch rival.
The Commodores played one of their worst halves of basketball and then watched a furious comeback fall 0.1 seconds short as Wade Baldwin's game-tying layup was ruled to have come after the final horn. Tennessee held on for a 67-65 win at the SEC Tournament -- and may have sunk Vanderbilt's NCAA Tournament chances with the victory.
The first half was a nightmare for Vanderbilt. The Commodores were ice cold from long range and missed their first nine three-pointers -- but those misses weren't half as costly as the 10 turnovers that helped Tennessee build a 30-15 lead midway through the opening frame. The Volunteers used 7-0, 6-0, and 8-0 runs to send Vandy to the locker room licking its wounds. The 'Dores made just one of 13 three-point attempts and shot 31.3 percent from the field as a skeleton crew of Riley LaChance, Joe Toye, and Nolan Cressler tried to cobble this game back together while Vanderbilt's starters languished on the bench due to a combination of foul trouble and ineffective play.
Vandy trailed 34-22 at the half, but a quick 7-0 run capped by a Matthew Fisher-Davis three-pointer breathed some life back into the Nashville crowd. Tennessee punched back with six straight points of its own, and it was clear there would be no quick fix for the Commodores to open the SEC Tournament. Some timely shooting from Fisher-Davis and Luke Kornet helped VU cut the gap to single digits and then to a single point with six minutes to play, but the Vols continued to find answers -- mostly through mid-range jumpers -- that stifled the Vandy comeback. It wasn't until Joe Toye drained a corner three-pointer than the 'Dores gained their first lead since an early 4-2 advantage.
But UT punched right back. Derrick Mostella flipped in a jumper as the shot clock expired on the Vols next possession. Wade Baldwin countered with a drive-and-dish that set Damian Jones up for a monster dunk that made it a 59-58 Vandy lead with 2:30 to play. Robert Hubbs III responded with a line-drive, shot clock-beating prayer that returned the lead to Tennessee. Jones earned a foul back at the Vandy end, but couldn't complete the front end of his 1-and-1 and gave the ball back to UT. Armani Moore drained a three to cap a 7-0 run and keep the Vols' momentum rolling, and suddenly the death knell began ringing for the Commodores.
Big three-pointers from Kornet and Fisher-Davis kept the 'Dores alive, but Tennessee still had a chance to put this game away when Detrick Mostella strode to the free throw line for a 1-and-1 with a 67-65 lead and six seconds to play. Mostella missed his first chance, but a Commodore lapse in the front court allowed Mostella to pick up his own rebound. Vandy fouled with 4.8 seconds left - and the Tennessee guard missed again. Kornet pulled down the rebound and handed the ball to Baldwin, who tore down the court and got off a layup at the buzzer that appeared to send this game to overtime:
However, replays confirmed that the shot had not left his hand before time had expired.
Vanderbilt fell to 19-13 with the loss, which may end up as its worst of the season. That could be enough of a reason for any doubting members of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to leave the Commodores out of their bracket this Sunday. Vandy has lost two straight games and looked awful doing so. Will that anti-momentum wind up dropping one of Kevin Stallings' most talented teams to the NIT?