1. Vanderbilt started the game on a hot streak building an early 11-2 lead. The Commodores have been privy to jumping out to these types of leads but have also been prone to untimely scoring droughts throughout the season. A 4:12 scoring drought coinciding with a 15-5 TCU run gave the Horned Frogs a 21-16 lead before a Jeff Roberson layup following a missed Riley LaChance three ended the Commodores drought.
2. Vanderbilt responded with a 14-2 run of their own, powered by LaChance and Roberson, to build a 30-23 lead. The senior duo has been one of the few consistencies in a season that hasn’t gone nearly the way many expected. In the first half, the senior tandem was extremely efficient combining for 24 of the Commodores 43 points on 10 of 13 shooting. The pair shot 4 of 6 from behind the arc, while the rest of the team combined to shoot 2 for 8. For the game, LaChance scored 24 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 4 of 8 from deep. Meanwhile, Roberson poured in 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting and was 3 of 5 behind the arc. The two combined for 44 points on 17 of 26 shooting and 7 of 13 from three. Those are the type of performances that Bryce Drew will need if Vandy is to move toward a .500 record and have a chance at salvaging the season.
3. Defense was at a premium in the first half, unsurprising as both teams rank in the hundreds in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.com. Both teams shot above 50 percent from the field, Vandy at just over 54 percent, while TCU shot over 57 percent from the floor for the half. Also, sticking out was TCU’s lack of free throw attempts in the half. The Horned Frogs didn’t have an attempt, as Vandy only committed five fouls, all coming on the floor.
4. Curious decision by Bryce Drew to call his second to last timeout with 11:11 left up 63-57 instead of waiting for the media timeout. The Commodores spent the past couple of series trading baskets with TCU and hadn’t given up that much momentum if any at all. In the end, the decision didn’t cost him but still surprised by that choice.
5. TCU came into the game ranked 17th in the nation in three-point field goal percentage at just over 40 percent. The Horned Frogs shot 2 of 8 from behind the arc in the first half, looking more for shots in the lane, scoring 24 of their 40 first-half points from inside the paint, opposed to searching for their three-point shot. In the second half, TCU found their touch from deep, shooting 6 of 15 and 8 of 23 for the game.
6. I’ve been watching basketball my entire life and fortunate to cover it for the past two years. In that time, which is only 24 years of life experience, I have never seen a game where a team didn’t attempt a free throw. Maybe there was a moment where a team didn’t and I wasn’t paying attention, but I’m sure that hasn’t occurred. Well, today it did. TCU, in a loss, had zero attempts from the free throw line. I’m sure that wasn’t the plan for Jamie Dixon coming into today.
7. The five-minute mark has typically been where things have fallen apart for Vandy in their losses. Today with five minutes to play, the Commodores led 74-72, that lead went to 76-72 thanks to a LaChance jumper off of an inbounds play. Vandy would finish the game on a 7-6 run, similar to last week against LSU, to close out yet another close contest at home. It’s been a season filled with close losses but the Commodores have found a way on consecutive Saturday’s to pull out a win against a quality opponent. This time, against a TCU team that was ranked in the Top 10 at the start of January. Vandy improves to 8-13 overall and 2-6 in the SEC.
8. Kudos to the Big 12 and SEC for putting on the Big 12/SEC Challenge for the fifth consecutive year. The two leagues followed the path laid out by the ACC and Big Ten in presenting a competitive non-conference showcase but took it to the next level holding the event in the middle of conference play, allowing programs from each league to earn one last opportunity to gain a quality non-conference win against a Power Five opponent. Although the challenge has been a success there could be improvements made, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes brought up an interesting point about trying to match up the conferences top teams, opposed to catering the games for a made for TV audience i.e. Kentucky-Kanas (seen in past years) and Alabama-Oklahoma (featuring top NBA prospects Trae Young and Collin Sexton). The issue is a numbers game. The SEC has 14 teams, while the Big 12, despite its name, only features 10 members. Therefore, the bottom four from the previous season in the SEC are left out in the next year’s competition. Coincidentally, that involves SEC leader Auburn being left out, along with Mississippi State, Missouri and LSU. I’m sure SEC commissioner Greg Sankey would’ve preferred to have the Tigers in over say Vanderbilt, but that’s not how the current model of qualification works.
Barnes suggested that leaving the schedule open until 10 days prior to the event would allow enough time to recognize who the top teams from each league are, likely based on the current standings, while also giving enough time for travel plans. This in all likelihood would create a far better competitive balance, but that’s also contingent on both leagues being equally competitive on the national scene. Fortunately, the SEC has been improved across the board, allowing for more build up for this year’s event outside of whoever Kentucky is playing. I’m all for pairing the Big 12’s best against the SEC’s best but any year that Kansas and Kentucky don’t play in the Champions Classic ESPN will want to have that has the headline game of the weekend. In the end, this is an event controlled by the suits in Bristol, CT and will be based on what will produce the best ratings during a period of time where college basketball is just entering the American viewers’ consciousness. That being said, Barnes is right.