Vanderbilt traveled down to Athens on Saturday, just four days off of a bad shooting performance against Alabama and learning of Liam Robbins‘ sprained ankle sidelining him for four to six weeks. How would Jerry Stackhouse‘s team respond to some adversity was a question that I had coming in and was eager to find out. Well, unfortunately, the hits did not stop there as the program spokesperson announced about 10 minutes before tip-off that Freshman big man Lee Dort has a stress fracture in his foot that will sideline him for at least four weeks and probably longer. The Vanderbilt men’s basketball has had a string of injuries to key players leading back to the infamous Darius Garland injury in 2018 and seemingly every year since.
Nevertheless, the show must go on and Vanderbilt went to Georgia and handed them their first loss 85-82 on their home court of the season. Stackhouse shook up the lineup with Freshman Paul Lewis starting and Trey Thomas relegated back to his role of coming off the bench. The freshman made his presence felt early hitting two three-pointers in the first 5 minutes of the game and from there the offense did not look back. Vandy had five guys finish in double figures led by Ezra Manjon with 19 points, and he was followed by Tyrin Lawrence with 15, Myles Stute with 14, Jordan Wright with 12, and Trey Thomas with 12 himself. The offense gelled together very well missing two key big men and not to be understated, the performances of Quentin Millora-Brown and Malik Dia filled the roles of the injured Robbins and Dort.
The most impressive and re-assuring part of the game was the composure and aforementioned resiliency of the Commodores not to be shaken by Georgia’s late runs to cut the game close and even tied down the stretch. As Vanderbilt fans, we all know the feeling of losing a lead late and just waiting for the complete meltdown ultimately leading the losing the game. That was different for Vandy on Saturday as they had an answer to stretch the lead back out when the Bulldogs got within striking distance. It felt like Manjon, Lawrence, and Wright were doing everything they can to will this team to the win. This is not something we are accustomed to seeing from them and is a great sign for the outlook for the rest of the season. Stackhouse has played a decent number of guys all year, but today he leaned on his keys guys to carry the load and play the bulk of the minutes. Having a veteran lineup with upperclassmen on the court when things got rocky helped keep them composed and chipping away to secure the victory. Stackhouse has had some scrutiny from fans over the course of this year and years passed, but the 4th year coach deserves some credit for pushing the right buttons today and putting his team in a position to win a game that seemed very unlikely heading in.
What’s next for Vanderbilt? After moving to 10-9 (3-3) on the season, the celebration will have to be short and sweet to begin preparing for a Kentucky team coming into Memorial Tuesday night at 8 pm CT. Kentucky started the year slow but has rattled off three straight wins including today against a solid Texas A&M squad. The biggest key in this upcoming game? What can Vandy do to slow down preseason AP All-American Oscar Tshiebwe with little depth in the post for the Commodores?