The Commodores improved their record to 1-1 in SEC play with a gutsy 76-75 over a very good Alabama side on Tuesday night. The ‘Dores survived a scare as an Alabama half-court heave at the buzzer would have changed the outcome of the game, but now Vandy can move on to their clash at South Carolina this weekend on the back of a win.
Here are the Vandy three keys to this one:
Be better at closing out a game
It was scary just how close the Commodores came to throwing this game away. Alabama shouldn’t even have been in the contest late, but Vandy did their best to implode and let the Crimson Tide escape with a backdoor win.
Vanderbilt committed three turnovers – turnovers that led to three Alabama baskets – in a 24-second span with around a minute remaining. The Commodores also failed to ice the game at the free-throw line, giving freshman point guard Collin Sexton that half-court shot at the buzzer. Vandy escaped this one, but the ‘Dores won’t always be so lucky.
A huge aspect of being a good team is managing those late game situations that turn a close win into a narrow defeat. If Vanderbilt is ahead late then the Commodores will have to show far more poise in Columbia.
Expect more from Saben Lee
Freshman guard Saben Lee has been an enigma for Vanderbilt for the first half of his college basketball career. There is no doubt that Lee is hyper-talented – it’s not going too far to call him the most talented player on the team – but that talent has not resulted in production in too many of Vanderbilt’s games.
Lee was just one point off of his career-high on Tuesday night as he scored 23 points against Alabama. He also has two assists and three steals – to go with three turnovers – as he played off of the pressure and excitement of his matchup with Sexton, the second leading scorer in the SEC with a 20.4 points per game average.
We now know what Lee can do. He scored 24 against Arizona State and 19 earlier in the year against both Belmont and Kansas State. Vanderbilt needs Lee to be at or near the 20 point mark in every game if this team is going to make a run in SEC play.
Take Chris Silva out of the game
Most of the good stuff South Carolina does on offense runs through Gabonese native Chris Silva. The 6-foot-9, 223-pound forward is going to be an issue for Vanderbilt just given his size and the lack of size that the ‘Dores can call on down low.
Silva is an efficient scorer in the paint and he has the ability to step out to three-point range occasionally and bury the long ball. In the Gamecocks first two SEC contests – both losses – he scored 18 and 21 points against Missouri and Ole Miss respectively.
Against the Tigers, Silva found himself in foul trouble. South Carolina lost the game 79-68, but when Silva was on the floor he personally had a plus/minus rating of 10. This means South Carolina won by 10 points while he was on the floor. If Vandy can get Silva into foul trouble then a huge Gamecocks’ weapon becomes a non-factor.