Vanderbilt was playing with house money when it rolled into College Station on a four-game winning streak. The flaws that have haunted the Commodores all season wound up bankrupting them.
The 'Dores were unraveled by turnovers, fouls, and shoddy rebounding in a 76-67 defeat to No. 20 Texas A&M on Saturday. That loss squashed Vandy's hopes of an SEC title and granted the Aggies at least a share of the league crown.
The Commodores had helped their NCAA Tournament chances by beating Florida and No. 18 Kentucky last week, and while the team sat on the happy side of the bubble, a win in Texas could have pushed them to near-lock status. Instead, they'll have to hope for a favorable matchup in the SEC bracket next week and avoid any bad losses before Selection Sunday. ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently has the team as a nine-seed in his projected lineup.
Things never really got moving for the Commodores. Vanderbilt went into halftime facing a 39-32 deficit - and they were lucky to only trail by seven. The visitors looked disheveled in College Station, turning the ball over on offense and failing to garner position on the defensive boards. Texas A&M forced 10 turnovers and turned those into 19 points. Another 10 offensive rebounds led to nine second-chance points. While Vandy attempted 24 shots in the first 20 minutes, the Aggies capitalized on the visitors' miscues to put up 35. It didn't help that Damian Jones and Jeff Roberson each misses wide swarthes of the half after picking up three fouls apiece early in the game.
The 'Dores couldn't fix their problems in the locker room. Jones kicked off the half by earning his fourth foul of the game on a Danuel House three-point attempt, and things quickly spiraled out of control from there. The Aggies used an 8-0 run to push their lead to 49-34 and bring a capacity Reed Arena crowd to its feet. Vandy battled back with some quick offense, but an A&M 7-0 run -- spurred by a pair of Vandy turnovers that led to fast break baskets -- gave the home team an 18-point advantage and effectively squashed the Commodores' hopes of a conference title.
Jones wound out fouling out with 9:54 left in the game, and Vanderbilt gave its bench some extended running time as the Texas A&M lead grew to as many as 20 points. Riley LaChance, Josh Henderson, and Camron Justice helped spur a 12-2 run that cut the Aggies' advantage down to 10, but the effort was too little, too late. A couple timely A&M baskets, including a fast break dunk by senior Alex Caruso, prevented an unlikely Vandy comeback.
Vanderbilt fell to 19-12 to close out the regular season and 11-7 in the SEC. Texas A&M claimed at least a share of the SEC Championship (depending on the outcome of the Kentucky-LSU game) by improving to 24-7 and 13-5. The Commodores will return to the court in Nashville next week - just not at Memorial Gym. They'll be playing at Bridgestone Arena in the SEC Tournament -- though the date, time, and opponent will all depend on how the rest of Saturday's conference play shakes out.