Vanderbilt may have seen the most talented roster in school history play its final game together. The Commodores finished off a disappointing 2015-16 campaign with a lackluster 70-50 loss to Wichita State in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament.
Damian Jones and Wade Baldwin, two players who may have been playing their last game in black and gold, struggled in their first NCAA Tournament appearance. The duo combined for just 14 points and made only five of their 15 shots from the field. Jones, in particular, struggled from the free throw line. He made just one of his seven shots from the charity stripe.
In all, Vanderbilt's starters had no answer for the suffocating Wichita State defense. They shot 24.3 percent from the field and were outshined from the bench performances of Riley LaChance and Joe Toye. The unheralded duo led the team in scoring with 10 points apiece.
Conversely, Wichita State's star tandem of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker combined for 28 points -- although they needed 26 shots to get there.
The two teams battled through an ugly first half where the referees seemed more interested in hearing their own whistles than allowing either team to garner momentum. Damian Jones couldn't elevate his game in his first trip to the NCAA Tournament (or, at least, something like it). He drew two WSU fouls near the basket in the first 2:01 of play, but missed all four free throws. Foul trouble glued him to the bench for most of the half, and he went into the locker room without a single point.
That drought wasn't just limited to Jones. Vanderbilt's starters made just five of their 18 shots as Wichita State took an early lead. Fortunately for the 'Dores, Joe Toye and the team's reserves came to play. The Vandy bench scored 15 points behind Toye's 10-point first-half explosion in Dayton. His shooting helped carve out a 30-25 lead, but three straight VU turnovers helped the Shockers tie the game at 30-30 at halftime.
Vanderbilt's sloppiness carried over to the second half. Wichita State forced a pair of turnovers and ran out to eight straight points to send Commodore coach Kevin Stallings scrambling for a timeout barely three minutes into the period. The Shockers extended that lead to 41-30 before the 'Dores finally began to wake up. Six huge points from Riley LaChance and the sudden reemergence of Jones sparked a 10-3 run that forced a WSU timeout with 10:38 to play.
LaChance's clutch play kept Vanderbilt close, but his team was unable to reclaim the lead as their momentum slipped away as quickly as it had come. The team missed 10 straight shots while Wichita State turned a one-point lead into a 16-point advantage and began methodically putting nails in the Commodore casket. The only thing that stopped the VU drought was a Jones layup, but even that was erased by a Kevin Stallings technical foul that all but cut off the oxygen to Vandy's dumpster fire of a second half. The 'Dores attempted a few halfhearted fouls in the minute that followed, but Stallings called off the dogs with two minutes to play and Wichita State leading by 18.
Wichita State advances to the proper NCAA Tournament bracket with the win. The Shockers will play sixth-seeded Arizona on Thursday night.