By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew knew he would lean on his seniors heading into his second season in Nashville.
But Drew didn’t realize he would wish for extra eligibility from his veteran trio.
“I wish they were juniors,” Drew said. “I wish we had them another year.”
Vanderbilt’s seniors have carried the load as the Commodores head into Tuesday’s matchup with Missouri at Memorial Gymnasium (6 p.m. CT ESPN2). The matchup with the Tigers marks Senior Night at Memorial, when the Dores will recognize seniors Matthew Fisher-Davis, Riley LaChance and Jeff Roberson.
Though that trio has dwindled to two following Fisher-Davis’ season-ending shoulder injury last month, Vanderbilt’s entire senior class plans to end its final regular season with momentum.
“We’ve had a great career here, especially at home,” Roberson said. “We want to finish on a high note. That’s the goal here.”
LaChance and Roberson have authored a pair of stellar closing chapters to their Vanderbilt careers. Roberson enters Tuesday as the only SEC player to rank fifth in the league in scoring (16.8 points per game) and rebounding (7.2 per game). The Houston native has eight double-doubles this season, the most by a Commodore since Will Perdue notched 10 in 1986-87 and 16 as a senior in 1987-88.
LaChance, meanwhile, has cemented his legacy as one of the best 3-point shooters in Vanderbilt history. He ranks fourth among SEC players in 3-point percentage (.412) and sixth in made 3-pointers per game (2.4). On Feb. 14, LaChance’s trey with a half-second left beat Mississippi State, 81-80, marking Vanderbilt’s fourth straight win at home.
Following the injury to Fisher-Davis – who capped his college career ranked No. 6 on VU’s career 3-pointers list (269) -- LaChance and Roberson have put the Dores on their shoulders. They have recorded 15 combined 20-point games since losing Fisher-Davis in the lineup, including a 30-point, 10-rebound performance from Roberson against Auburn on Feb. 3.
Now, they can hardly believe their time at Memorial is coming to an end.
“It’s wild,” he said. “ It kind of feels like I just started yesterday. It’s gone by super fast.”
Added Roberson: “I remember freshman year and I remember this year, basically. Everything else is kind of a blur. I don’t want it to end.”
Next season’s heralded freshman class is set to include two five-star signees in Darius Garland and Simi Shittu, but Drew said Vanderbilt’s seniors will be sorely missed. This group is the first class to produce three 1,000-point scorers since 1976, when the vaunted “F Troop” - Butch Feher, Joe Ford and Jeff Fosnes – starred at Memorial Gym.
“The writing was pretty much on the wall when we came back this year that our seniors would have to carry a huge load,” Drew said. “Especially this last month, I think Riley and Jeff have carried more than we thought they’d carry when the year started. They’ve been tremendous.
“You try to not get too sad or too emotional. I’ve only coached them for two years, but it’s hard not to develop a relationship and a bond with such great guys. Guys that you cheer for as a fan that you want to do well, and as a coach.”
Tuesday’s matchup with Missouri is not the end of the road for Vanderbilt’s seniors. The Commodores end the regular season against Ole Miss on Saturday in Oxford. Two straight wins would give Vandy a jolt heading into next week’s SEC Tournament, which begins next Wednesday in St. Louis.
There, Vanderbilt’s seniors hope to seal their legacies by shaking up the SEC bracket.
“I think we can go in there and cause some problems,” LaChance said.
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.