1. Hot shooting has always been the key to success for Vanderbilt, and really any team playing basketball for that matter. But this is especially the case this season without a reliable post threat, after the departure of Luke Kornet to graduation last spring. The Commodores connected on four of their first six three-point tries, with Matthew Fisher-Davis making his first two attempts off the bench, giving Vandy an early 18-13 lead in the midst of a 10-0 run. For the half, Vandy shot 8-for-16 from behind the arc. That’s an absurd number that they’re going to need every night in the SEC, particularly at home. The Commodores would only shoot 2-of-9 from three-point range in the second half, making them 10-for-25 on the night. Double-digit three-point makes is a must for this team.
2. Vanderbilt freshman guard Saban Lee has a chance to be a real difference maker for the Commodores. Lee is arguably the Dores most athletic player, and I’m not sure there’s much of an argument against it. So far, Lee has started 11 of the Vandy’s first 14 games. Lee poured in 16 points in the first half on 5-of-1o shooting, including 2-for-4 from three-point range. Lee added seven more in the second half tallying 23 on 7-fo-14 shooting for the night. Alabama freshman point guard Collin Sexton is a sure-fire lottery-pick in June’s NBA Draft but Lee was the best freshman point guard inside Memorial Gym tonight.
3. Vanderbilt jumped out of the half to a 48-33 lead after a Riley LaChance three-pointer, followed by a layup by Jeff Roberson. From that point, the Dores missed their next 8 three-point attempts, over a ten-minute span, allowing Alabama to crawl back into the game with 9:59 left only down 60-54 also thanks in part to a 2:51 scoring drought. Roberson quelled the Crimson Tide run with a basket and one, following a timeout to extend the lead back to nine, 63-54.
4. It’s incredible how much Vanderbilt relies on the three ball. Alabama had cut the Commodores lead down to 63-59 and looked to be taking back the momentum in the game, but all that changed once LaChance hit a step back three to put Vandy back up 66-59. The Memorial Gym crowd and Vanderbilt team was suddenly energized by the first make in over 12 minutes. The noise and energy directly led to a Djery Baptiste block of Braxton Key, all the way to a foul on the other end, tilting the pendulum back the Dores way.
5. It’s never going to be easy in the SEC this season. Vanderbilt has a home slate that still has No. 23 Tennessee, No. 17 Kentucky, No. 11 Texas A&M, and No. 22 Arkansas set to travel to Memorial Gym—not to mention a bout with No. 16 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and a trip by former Top 5 Florida team also scheduled to make the trip to West End. The Commodores appeared to have an “accident” late in the game as Avery Johnson ratcheted up the pressure forcing several turnovers that helped cut the lead to 74-73 with 46 seconds to play. Vandy barely got the ball across in time to avoid a ten-second violation. LaChance was able to find big man Djery Baptiste at the end of the shot clock to push the lead back to 76-73 with 18 seconds. Alabama would cut the lead to one and have another shot at the win but Sexton’s half-court three at the buzzer was just left of the basket giving the Dores a win they desperately needed.
6. I was about sick watching Vanderbilt’s last few possessions, but at least they finally found a way to close a game, not the game but a game. The win brings them level in the SEC at 1-1 and to 6-8 overall. The 6-8 record isn’t what anyone expected coming into the season, but it can quickly turnaround if Vandy is able to defend their home floor, which will be paramount given the teams I listed above that are slated to come to Nashville. A road trip to South Carolina on Saturday, followed by a week highlighted by visits by Tennessee and Kentucky will paint the picture on whether the Commodores SEC season will play out differently than their non-conference.
7. As for Alabama, a young team is going to have losses on the road in this year’s SEC. I give Johnson and his team credit for fighting back to have an opportunity at the buzzer to win it. Sexton led the way with 24, likely jumping him ahead of Georgia’s Yante Maten for the SEC scoring crown—at least for the night—but his backcourt mate John Petty was nowhere to be found offensively after an 18 point outing against Texas A&M on Saturday. The freshman scored a single basket on the night, something that Johnson attributed to Vanderbilt’s scouting. Sexton has to, and likely will, bring it every night, but he’s going to need the likes of Petty to be there right beside him if the Tide is going to compete on the road in the SEC on a nightly basis. The leadership and timely plays that Key provides this team will also be a contributing factor to the Tides potential conference success. Overall, I still feel the same way about Alabama as I did coming in. They’re going to have their growing pains because of their youth, but come March this will be a team few teams will be happy to see.