Vanderbilt extended its stretch of home wins to four on the bounce after squeezing past Mississippi State by the slimmest of margins on Wednesday night. The ‘Dores took the game 81-80 thanks to a Riley LaChance buzzer-beater, proving again that on their home court this is a team that raises its game. Now they get to go for five home wins in a row as they take on Florida.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Enjoy the home cooking
This stays as a key because Vanderbilt just continues to find ways to win at home. Against the Bulldogs it took a missed Mississippi State free-throw, a couple of outlet passes against a strangely passive defense, and then LaChance inexplicably finding himself open in the confusion to drain that final shot from just behind the arc.
Whatever the reason, there is a touch of magic about Vanderbilt right now when they play in Nashville. It’s actually a pretty cool thing to see given how easily this season could have slipped away after a couple of injuries had Vandy playing down. Instead, the team has picked up and while their road form has been an issue, this Commodore team is proving a tough nut to crack at home.
Keep diversifying the scoring
Against the Bulldogs, Vanderbilt found plenty of ways to score the basketball. The ‘Dores were on fire from behind the arc, hitting 14-of-27 three-point attempts. They also hit 11 foul shots, though head coach Bryce Drew would have been unhappy with the 11-of-17 overall effort from the charity stripe.
Perhaps the biggest aspect of the win though was the way that the Vandy scoring effort was shared. The ‘Dores had four players in double-digits for the game, with senior Jeff Roberson leading the team with 22 points. LaChance added 16 points, Joe Toye scored a season-high 16 points himself, while Payton Willis scored 15 points – also a season-high – by nailed five three-point attempts.
Teams with diversified scoring patterns are hard to beat, so Vanderbilt needs to hit Florida with a similar all-out attack.
Keep pressuring Florida in the second half
If Florida could close out games then the Gators would be in a much better position in the SEC. The Gators though have been bad in second halves all year long, a problem that reared up again in their last contest against Georgia. Florida was up by as many as 11 points in the second half, a lead which a team should be able to manage to a victory. Instead, Florida was pegged back by the Bulldogs before losing a heartbreaker in overtime.
Even more astonishingly the Gators were up by six with 20 seconds to play in their loss. This is a team that will make mistakes at crucial times and that doesn’t have a player to bail them out of those situations. No matter the score, Vanderbilt will be in this one with a chance to win in the second half simply because Florida has no idea how to sit on a lead.