By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The best medicine for a basketball team plagued with a rough start?
A streak of hot shooting.
At least, that’s what Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew recommends.
“It definitely helps,” head coach Bryce Drew said. “We made shots, which makes things look a lot better and makes guys feel better. You usually play better on the defensive end when you’re making shots, as well.”
The Commodores heeded the doctor’s orders in their last two victories, an 81-48 win over Houston Baptist on Dec. 20 and a 92-51 win over Alcorn State on Dec. 22. They shot a combined 58-118 from the field, or 49.2 percent, in winning consecutive games for the first time this season. Vanderbilt’s 32-point advantage over Alcorn was the program’s largest margin of victory under Drew and largest overall since 2015.
While the Dores know not to rest on their laurels following a pair of one-sided matchups, they still hope their shooting stroke carries into SEC play. That begins Saturday at Florida (3 p.m. CT ESPN2).
“We’ve got to continue to move the ball on offense,” senior guard Riley LaChance said. “The last two games, we did that. We moved the ball and didn’t settle for bad shots. We finally put a full 40 minutes together.”
The Commodores were one of the country’s least efficient offenses through a disappointing 3-7 start. But against Houston Baptist and Alcorn State, they regained their groove. Vanderbilt dished out 43 assists in those two games while knocking down 29 3-pointers on 65 attempts for a 45-percent clip. That included a season-high 17 3-pointers vs. the Alcorn State, just two shy of the program’s single-game record.
Albeit against lesser competition, the Commodores showed flashes of their offensive potential. But Drew said his squad must also learn how to close out tight games; Vanderbilt dropped three straight home games by a combined 12 points prior to its last two victories. The Commodores have also faced the 43rd toughest schedule in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy.
“We were close in a lot of games,” Drew said. “It’s finishing up games, finding an identity at the end of games. We still need to win some of those close games and find out what that identity is going to look like in the last two minutes. With conference season coming, games are going to be more competitive.”
The Dores can gauge their SEC-readiness with Saturday’s visit to Florida’s O’Connell Center. Led by veteran guards KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza, the Gators are 8-4 and rank in the nation’s top-50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per Pomeroy. All four of their losses have come against top-100 teams.
Florida might have revenge on its mind, as well. Vanderbilt won all three meetings in the SEC series last season, including a 73-71 win in the SEC tournament quarterfinals last March. In fact, Gators’ head coach Mike White has yet to beat Vanderbilt (0-5) during his stint in Gainesville.
That history matters little to the Commodores.
“It’s a clean slate,” LaChance said. “They’ve got a ton of new guys on that team this year. But they’re going to be really hungry against us because we beat them three times last year. We’ve got to come out with a chip on our shoulder.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.