The Vanderbilt Commodores certainly knew going in that the Liberty Flames’ defense — ranked second in the country in points per game entering Saturday night’s game at Memorial Gym — would be tough to crack, and that certainly appeared to be the case early on. Vanderbilt’s first basket didn’t come until two and a half minutes into the game when Dylan Disu opened the scoring with a three-pointer. But Vanderbilt began to open some breathing space for itself by extending a lead to 17-8 midway through the first half, as Liberty couldn’t stop coughing the ball up — the Flames, averaging ten turnovers per game coming in, had ten turnovers in the first half.
The Flames would come back, though, as they made seven field goal attempts in a row to build a 27-21 lead before Vanderbilt stormed back with a 11-0 lead to close the first frame, punctuated by Saben Lee throwing down an alley-oop dunk from Scotty Pippen Jr. just before the buzzer.
This is certainly one way to end a half of basketball pic.twitter.com/MIH48zAy1m— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) December 15, 2019
The run would get to 14-0 when Clevon Brown opened the second half with an and-1 off a feed from PIppen, but then the Commodores went into a cold stretch; Vanderbilt went ten and a half minutes without making a field goal. The only good news during this stretch is that Liberty only scored 14 points, and when Aaron Nesmith ended the drought with a dunk with 8:59 left, Liberty’s lead was just 43-41.
The teams see-sawed back and forth for the next few minutes. Following the last media timeout of the game, Aaron Nesmith made two free throws to give Vanderbilt a 50-49 lead. Liberty’s Elijah Cuffee gave the Flames the lead back 50 seconds later with a drive and a layup. Vanderbilt then missed a pair of threes, and Cuffee scored again with 2:02 left to make it 53-50. Things started to look bleak when Nesmith missed another three, but Scotty Pippen Jr. intercepted a pass and got fouled to stop a breakaway, and made one of two free throws to cut the deficit to 2.
But Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz hit the dagger, a driving bank shot to give Liberty a 55-51 lead with 47 seconds left, and Dylan Disu missed a layup at the other end. The final was 61-56. Nesmith finished with 19 and Saben Lee had 16, but Vanderbilt could not overcome a 34 percent shooting performance from the field in the loss. Vanderbilt plays Loyola-Chicago in Phoenix on Wednesday.