(4) Murray State Beats Vanderbilt at the Buzzer, 2010
I got up early for this one. You’re used to that in California, it’s the price of doing business with national sporting events. In this case, it meant going down to the Brit, a San Jose institution not far from the Shark Tank, open and doing a brisk business dispensing Guinness at 8 AM on behalf of the San Francisco Vanderbilt Club. I renewed acquaintances with the folks I had met earlier in the season when we played a thriller in the bandbox at St Mary’s, and we spoke carefully about getting the stench of the Siena loss off us. We were a 4 seed again. Surely we wouldn’t botch it, right? I mean, yeah, Obama picked against us, but no way we’re losing to a second 13-seed in three seasons...right?
I don’t know what happened. This was still a relatively young team all around - the super-class were mostly sophomores and John Jenkins (Jingleheimer Schmidt, as my wife persisted in adding every time the PA announced him) was a freshman. Experience was Dolla Beal and AJ Ogilvy, at a time when we couldn’t figure out if AJ wanted to play ball or just be the most modish hipster in East Nashville.
We couldn’t pull away. And then we couldn’t get ahead. We went 4-12 from 3-point range, which is not great but we weren’t exactly hoisting the shots either. We got 29 free throws and made 17 of them. They took more shots. They got more rebounds. Murray State played like a team with nothing to lose, and we played like a team with the yips, tight as a drum, afraid that something might go wrong, and we went to the locker room down four at the half. And then, before long, we were down almost ten. Nobody was stepping up and pouring it in. Jenkins, the rookie, would finish with a team-high 13. Beal and Ogilvy, the vets, would chip in 12. No one else would be in double digits. And then Beal hit the free throws to put us up one with 12 second left. All we need now is defense. Just get after it. Do something...
And then Danero Thomas swished it at the buzzer, and the new narrative - Vanderbilt men’s basketball as guaranteed postseason choke artists - was set in stone.
My wife physically pulled me out of the arena and dragged me to the Starbucks next to the Brit, where she got onto Craigslist and sold the rest of our sessions tickets within ten minutes. Then she threw me in the car and drove us to Yosemite, where there was no cell service, and spent two days waiting for me to become coherent again and say something other than just a stream of cuss words. It was the beginning of a tortuous decade for Vanderbilt hoops, a decade with one miraculous bright spot in New Orleans in 2012 surrounded by a whole lot of underachievement, a perverse and backward version of “Can You Top This” that ended the only way it could: a winless SEC season followed by an attempted comeback year that was terminated by pandemic...but only after we’d lost our SEC tournament opener.
Never ask a Vandy fan why they drink. Ask why they bother putting the cap back on the bottle.
(5) Cassen Jackson-Garrison Fumbles, Georgia Makes the Game-Winner as Time Expires, 2007
The frustration of the Bobby Johnson era was that starting around 2005, the Commodores were pretty competitive. They just couldn’t finish the job.
Perhaps no season summed that up better than 2007. Vanderbilt started the season 3-2, and then the Georgia Bulldogs came to town ranked 24th in the country, 4-2 following a 35-14 loss at Tennessee the week before. And Vanderbilt got out to a 17-7 lead in the first half.
But Georgia would score on its first drive of the second half to cut the Vanderbilt lead to 17-14. And then came the hallmark of Bobby Johnson teams: the offense suddenly going into a shell when it had a lead. Vanderbilt’s first four drives of the second half all ended in punts, and three of them failed to even gain a first down. But the defense managed to keep Georgia in check, until a Brandon Coutu field goal tied the game with a little over six minutes left.
And then the Vanderbilt offense, suddenly needing a go-ahead score to take the game, sprang to life. Quarterback Mackenzi Adams found George Smith for a 39-yard completion on the first play of the drive, immediately putting Vanderbilt in business on the Georgia side of the field. Two plays later, Adams ran for a first down to the Georgia 24, seemingly assuring Vanderbilt no worse than a field goal on the drive. Adams got stuffed for a three-yard loss, but got it back (and then some) with a five-yard penalty on Georgia. Alex Washington then ran for four yards down to the 18.
On 3rd and 4, Cassen Jackson-Garrison got the first down and then some... and then, didn’t. Jackson-Garrison fumbled the ball, recovered by Georgia at its own 7-yard line with 2:43 left in the game. Had he held onto it, Vanderbilt would have been assured of at worst a chip-shot field goal, and possibly could have even gotten a touchdown. (This is all complicated by the fact that Georgia had all three of its timeouts left, meaning that the Bulldogs likely would have gotten the ball back with a couple of minutes on the clock either way.)
Anyway, in true Vanderbilt fashion, Georgia went 74 yards in 10 plays to set up the game-winning field goal as the clock expired. It was a frustrating loss in a frustrating season, one that would end with a 5-7 record because of course it did.
Which moment advances?
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