Vanderbilt was stunningly close to pulling off the upset of the season on Wednesday night before losing 88-83 to No. 1 Tennessee in overtime. Was the game just a case of Vanderbilt rising to the occasion for a rivalry game or is this loss the start of a resurgence for the ‘Dores as we head towards March?
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Try to stay on the good side of the officials
The ‘Dores may be 0-6 in league play, but in two of those games Vanderbilt was in the driving seat down the stretch before a technical foul altered the end of the game.
Against Tennessee, Vandy was up 76-70 with 1:30 left when a brutal foul call on Clevon Brown against Grant Williams on a rebound completely swung momentum. Williams did his part by making the most of the contact, as he is entitled to do, but the officials have to be better in those judgment call situations.
Even taking that one play out it is clear that Vanderbilt just didn’t play to what the officials were calling. Williams had an all-timer of a night where he went 23-23 from the line, while the ‘Dores took just 21 free throw shots as a team.
We all know officials can be bad, but getting them onside is part of the game.
Contain Jamal Bieniemy
Oklahoma does not have a player on their roster as talented and as destructive to Vanderbilt as Grant Williams was for Tennessee on Wednesday night. Williams scored a career-high 43 points against the ‘Dores, with Tennessee needing every one of them to win the game.
What Oklahoma does have though is a freshman point guard with just two career starts that has given the Sooners a boost in Big 12 play. Bieniemy hit a trio of three-pointers in the final few minutes of a close loss to Texas where Oklahoma almost stole a win and then backed up that performance with 17 points as Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State 70-61 in the Bedlam game midweek.
He is a good mix of offense and defense from the point guard spot and Bieniemy will give the Vanderbilt guards some problems in Norman.
More Aaron Nesmith
The forgotten man of the Commodores recruiting class this season, freshman forward Nesmith is quickly developing into a key player for Vanderbilt.
At 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, Nesmith is a flashing scorer who has been doing serious damage over the Commodores last four outings. He has averaged 17.3 points per game over that time span, with his emergence allowing Semi Shittu and Saben Lee to carry less of the scoring workload and opening up the Vanderbilt offensive in the process.
Nesmith is also a visibly emotional player and someone who hates losing. He has turned that aspect of his personality into one that drives the Commodores forward and if his play continues to improve then the ‘Dores will not continue losing for long.