Feb. 28, 2010
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Nearly a year to the day after a 73-70 victory over Auburn on Senior Day, the Commodores found themselves on the wrong end of that exact score with seconds remaining against South Carolina.
Sharpshooting senior Merideth Marsh stepped up to hit a potential game-tying 3-pointer as time expired.
But on a day where the Commodores couldn't finish out plays consistently on either end of the floor, there would be no happy ending. The shot was just off the mark, and the Gamecocks escaped.
"We didn't finish plays, we didn't finish this game, we didn't finish this season the way we would have liked to finish it," said Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb.
Vanderbilt has always prided itself on finishing strong, so coming up short on Senior Day against South Carolina was a bit shocking to a player like Jessica Mooney, who finished with four points, a highlight-reel block and two steals.
"We were kind of in disbelief after the game," Mooney said. "I've never been a part of Senior Day where the seniors didn't win the game. It's kind of hard."
It was hard on all the seniors. The loss, coupled with the knowledge of playing in their final game at Memorial Gym, made for an emotional Senior Day ceremony on the court after the game. Marsh, Mooney and fellow seniors Lauren Leuders and Ashlee Bridge were all honored for their myriad accomplishments in their four seasons with the Commodores.
Marsh clutched her head in her hands after the near-miss.
"Felt good, looked good," Marsh said of the final shot. "It's just upsetting that a game like this that we didn't fight back and that's what it had to come down to was a shot in our home gym on Senior Day where we were down. It's not like they were down and they had to hit that shot in order to beat us or tie it."
That was where then-No. 3 Auburn found itself last February after Marsh hit two free throws with 11 seconds remaining last Feb. 19. The Tigers missed a desperate 3 at the buzzer and the Commodores celebrated a perfect 7-0 SEC run in Memorial Gym.
Marsh did about all she could to make this one end the right way too. She led all scorers with 27 points, hitting 6 3-pointers.
However, South Carolina proved too much on the boards, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds and getting 19 second-chance points to lead by as many as 7 in the second half. Vanderbilt rallied back, taking a one-point lead on a 3-point play by Hannah Tuomi with 1:29 left.
But the Gamecocks took the lead back on the next possession and were able to hold on down the stretch.
"We had opportunities at both ends of the floor to put it away," Balcomb said. "We didn't execute. We didn't do what we needed to do. We were there but we didn't finish the play."
Now, the new season begins, and a little earlier than the Commodores would have liked. Vanderbilt could have guaranteed itself a first-round bye in the upcoming SEC Tournament with a victory over the Gamecocks, but the loss coupled with LSU's victory over Mississippi State and Georgia's win over Arkansas forces a first-round game on Thursday.
The sting of Sunday's loss will only serve as motivation going forward. The Commodores didn't finish the regular season they way they hoped, but they're by no means finished.
After all, they've got a championship to defend. And they've won four games in four days before.
"We lost. Can't do anything about it, can't get it back," Marsh said. "Our season is not over. It's up to us. No one else can take it from us unless we let them.
"I'm ready for a challenge. I think we have enough heart to do it so I'm excited about it."