By Zac Ellis
SALT LAKE CITY – Vanderbilt staged a late run in the regular season to shock many by earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, the Commodores’ stay in the Big Dance was a short one.
No. 9 seed Vanderbilt rallied from 15 points down in the second half but was unable to close, falling to No. 8 Northwestern, 68-66, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
Let’s clean the glass from Vanderbilt’s stint in Salt Lake City.
THE SKINNY: Northwestern used the energy of a heavily purple-clad crowd to build a sizeable lead in the first half. The Wildcats shot out to an early 14-5 lead thanks to a 10-0 run. But the ‘Dores found a way to cut the deficit to one, 22-21, on a Matthew Fisher-Davis driving dunk with 12:29 until half. Still, Northwestern ended the half shooting 56 percent from the floor and leading 34-27. Vanderbilt wasn't finished, however, and it rallied to take a 66-65 lead with mere seconds to play. But a late foul from Matthew Fisher-Davis and key Northwestern free throws helped the 'Cats hold on and advance in the tournament.
TURNING POINT: With 18 seconds to play, Riley LaChance banked in a layup to give Vanderbilt a 66-65 lead over Northwestern. But after the Wildcats inbounded the ball, Matthew Fisher-Davis fouled Bryant McIntosh with 15 seconds left. That sent the junior to the line for two free throws, both of which he knocked down. Vanderbilt trailed 67-66 when LaChance launched a last-ditch 3-pointer that clanked off the rim. The 'Dores knocked the rebound out of bounds, and an ensuing foul sent Northwestern to the line with less than two seconds to play. The 'Cats then hit one of two to seal the win.
IMPACT PLAYER: Bryant McIntosh. Not only did the heady junior knock down two clutch free throws to seal the win for Northwestern, he was the most dangerous player on the floor for much of the afternoon. McIntosh scored a game-high 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting, hitting three of his five 3-point attempts. The Wildcats’ leader found success on offense against Vanderbilt and became difficult to stop in key moments.
STARTLING STAT: 49 – Northwestern’s shooting percentage for the game. The Wildcats started hot from the field, leading by as many as nine in the first half after shooting 56 percent from the floor. In the second half, Vanderbilt wasn’t able to cool Northwestern’s hot hand; the ‘Cats converted 26 of their 53 total shots, including 6-for-14 (43 percent) from 3-point land. Northwestern entered the game ranked 212th nationally in 3-point percentage (34.1).
WHAT IT MEANS: Vanderbilt ends its first season under coach Bryce Drew with a 19-16 record. Despite an 8-10 start, the Commodores finished the year by winning seven of their final 10 games.
QUOTABLE: “From day one, we teach our guys that we’re a team… One play doesn’t lose a game for you. I’m proud of our guys for fighting back and being in that situation. Without [Fisher-Davis], we’re not even close to being in that situation at the end.” -Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew on Matthew Fisher-Davis' late foul against Northwestern
WHAT’S NEXT: Vanderbilt’s season is over.