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Vanderbilt starts hot, but can’t finish in Rupp Arena

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Note to the selection committee: are you really going to find 36 better teams than Vanderbilt in the at-large pool?

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Drew will win a lot of games at Vanderbilt, but tonight he learned something. You don’t just go into Rupp Arena and run Kentucky out of the gym, and especially not on Senior Night.

Vanderbilt led 25-6 with 8:04 left in the first half. That big lead came in part because of a hot start from Vanderbilt, but also because Kentucky just wasn’t hitting anything. The Wildcats promptly went on a 18-5 run to close out the first half and pull to within 30-24 at the break.

Still, it felt like Vanderbilt had survived the haymakers from Kentucky and was poised to get out of Rupp with a big win, as the Commodores built a 47-34 lead with 13:53 left in the second half. But if the haymakers didn’t land a knockout blow, eventually Kentucky just wore Vanderbilt down with a succession of body blows. A pair of Malik Monk free throws finally evened the score at 54 with 7:01 left, and from there the Commodores and Wildcats traded blows until a late flurry by Kentucky gave the Wildcats a 73-67 win.

The lesson of tonight is that when you go to Rupp, you’ve got to be prepared to go the full forty minutes. But let’s get something out of the way: if you watched tonight’s game and you still think there will be 36 teams in the at-large pool that are better than Vanderbilt, you’re probably not paying attention.

Vanderbilt drops to 16-14 overall and 9-8 in the SEC. The Commodores will close the regular season on Saturday against Florida in what will be the final home game for seniors Nolan Cressler and Luke Kornet.