Over a 31-game schedule, a college basketball team is bound to have some letdowns. Not every player is going to bring the same energy level all the time. Not when you're not getting paid to do this, when you have to deal with academics and other distractions off the court. It's simply unrealistic to expect the team to deliver the same effort every night. Some nights, guys are just going through the motions. That isn't to say that they don't care about winning -- just that, well, some games are more important than others. Everybody knows that.
A classic time for a low-energy game is when the team's just had a very high-energy one, or a series of them. Last week Vanderbilt had a road game at Florida followed by a home game against Kentucky, both games coming with the season on the line. Both were games in which the Commodores played with a high level of emotion, because they didn't want the season to slip away.
After that, there was only so much left in the tank... but thankfully, last night's opponent was one that didn't require a high level of energy. Tennessee wasn't a very good team to begin with, and the Vols last night were without their leading scorer (Kevin Punter) and another starter (Robert Hubbs.) The remaining players, knowing that they're not going to be playing in the postseason, are just playing out the string. If there's a better time to come out sluggish, I can't think of one. With a bench player and a couple of walk-ons in the starting lineup, and with the rest of the team getting off to a slow start, Vanderbilt still only trailed 16-15 with 7:47 left in the first half. In a lot of games, the Commodores would be facing a 15-point deficit... but against Tennessee, even that effort was good enough to play to a draw.
And then Vanderbilt quickly put the game out of reach after that. Tennessee briefly threatened in the second half, but against an outmanned team, even an 80 percent effort was more than enough to come away with a win.
|Wade Baldwin IV||29||4||11||3||5||6||6||0||6||6||0||17||7||1||1||2||20.7||0.71|
- Granted, another factor in the game was the let's say unusual distribution of minutes. Senior night only had a little bit to do with that; Nolan Cressler played 12 minutes after playing 2 minutes -- total -- in the last three games. Camron Justice played double-digit minutes for the first time since the Ole Miss game.
- Speaking of Justice, he and Joe Toye showed what they can do in extended action. With some (likely) defections -- I'm not going to come out and say who, but you can probably guess in the comments -- how much improvement they can make in the offseason will go a long way toward making Vanderbilt an NCAA Tournament contender in 2017.
- And Justice playing more minutes than Riley LaChance is still a little unsettling.
- Nothing much to complain about from the starters; you can afford an off night from Matthew Fisher-Davis when the other four are doing fine.
- The security presence after the last media timeout suggests that David Williams is really, really, really not going to risk a $250,000 fine.
- Darius Garland (Brentwood, TN/Brentwood Academy), a five-star point guard in the Class of 2018,was in attendance on an unofficial visit last night.
In a lot of ways, while last night was about closing the book on some chapters (the three seniors), there was a lot of looking ahead involved with some guys who figure to be key players in the future getting an extended look against an overmatched team. But there will be none of that in Saturday's regular season finale. The Commodores head to College Station for a game against the Aggies, in which (if LSU cooperates) there could be a share of Vanderbilt's first SEC title since 1993 on the line.