Vanderbilt lost another heart breaker on Tuesday night as they had Arkansas beaten before a late three and a turnover changed the course of the game. The 69-66 defeat means the Commodores will still be looking for their first SEC win of the year when Alabama visits Nashville on Saturday.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Stop Tevin Mack
One of the biggest issues that Vanderbilt has had during this losing run is their inability to stop the best player on the opposition team from going off and pouring in the points.
We saw it against Tennessee when Grant Williams went for a career-high 45 points. We saw it on Tuesday when Daniel Gafford scored a game-high 28 points (and made a career-high 10-of-12 free throws). Now we get to see if the ‘Dores can somehow reverse this trend and shut down the dangerous Tevin Mack.
Mack, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Texas, scored a season-high 25 points last time out as the Crimson Tide beat Georgia. He has the size and skillset to compare to some of the other players that have had their way with the Vandy defense this season and he is clearly playing at or near his best. Shutting down Mack will be vital for the Commodores.
Keep the defensive focus
Vanderbilt should have beaten Arkansas.
The Commodores held a two-point lead with the Razorbacks essentially down to their last possession with 40 seconds to go. After doing an outstanding job of denying entry into the paint and making the Razorbacks work the shot clock down, Vanderbilt somehow let freshman Keyshawn Embery-Simpson get open to hit a three-pointer as the shot clock expired.
The shot dropped in with 14 seconds left and you could almost feel the air suck out of the building as the Vandy players and fans accepted that this was going to be another one of those games.
Embery-Simpson just cannot be open in that situation. The defense was there for most of the play, but be it a tiredness or a focus issue, the defense broke down in time for an open shot to be taken. This is a game of fine margins and yet again Vandy found itself on the wrong side at the end of the game.
Keep Joe Toye hot
Vanderbilt has had one of the tougher stretches in terms of late game breaks of any team in the nation over the last month. Sure, some games have been blowouts, but in others it feels like every break and every call in the last two minutes has gone against Vanderbilt.
The only way to make this luck a non-factor is to build a big enough lead against Alabama that it doesn’t matter how crazy bounces and calls become in the late stages of the game. One good thing to come out of the Arkansas defeat was the reemergence of Toye as a scoring threat and his hot hand is one Vandy should ride until it cools off.
Toye hit four three-pointers as part of an 18-point night, making a couple of big shots when the ‘Dores needed something to fall. If Toye can maintain a scoring pace in the mid-to-high teens, then Vandy can beat Alabama.