When the city of Nashville needed someone to stand up and fight, the Vanderbilt basketball team was there to answer the call. On a night removed from the deadly tornados that killed at least 25 people, the Commodores came into Tuscaloosa and played some of its best basketball of the season.
Led by Saben Lee, scoring a career-high 38 points, with eight rebounds and five assists, with nothing to lose, they showed what it meant to play for something more than just basketball.
Alabama didn’t make it easy, though. Graduate-student guard James Bolden on his senior night hit seven three-pointers finishing with 24 points and three rebounds.
But even in the worst of circumstances, Vanderbilt gave Nashville something to cheer for. Even if only for a night.
With its postseason hopes hanging by a thread, the Crimson Tide (16-14, 8-9 SEC) couldn’t finish, losing its final home game of the season, 87-79. It is the Commodores’ (10-20, 2-15 SEC) first road SEC win since 2018 and just its second conference win of the season beating then ranked No. 3 LSU earlier in the year.
“Obviously a super disappointing loss,” head coach Nate Oats’ said in a press release. “That probably buries our tournament chances, which we kind of knew, barring us winning the SEC tournament, we probably aren’t going to be playing in it.”
Sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. led Alabama with 30 points and four rebounds. He became the second-fastest Crimson Tide player to reach 1,000 career points. Freshman guard Jaden Shackelford finished with 18 points.
Despite the impressive numbers Alabama is putting up, they continue to have trouble with turnovers and junior forward Alex Reece. In the last 10 games, he is just 15-of-63 from behind the arc and since LSU, he is 8-of-32. Reece struggles to play stout defense and hold on to loose balls.
With one game left on the Crimson Tide’s schedule, whatever hope there was to make the NCAA tournament is now gone.
Its win the SEC tournament or get invited to the NIT.
As Cecil Hurt, of The Tuscaloosa News, pointed out, over the last four seasons, the Crimson Tide holds a 15-25 record, including an 8-12 home record in February and March. Despite what injuries there are, what players are eligible, or not eligible, nothing changes, the NCAA tournament should not be the expectation.
“We talk about max effort here and we didn’t give it tonight,” Oats said. “I am really disappointed. This is not the first time we’ve done this, though. We are good enough. We lost at Kentucky, but when you look at the other top teams in this league, we beat LSU, we beat Auburn, go to overtime at Auburn, up 21 at Florida and end up losing, Mississippi State is in front of us in the rankings and we beat them. To me, that’s inconsistency and effort. We have to get that changed.”
Alabama plays its final game of the regular season Saturday at Missouri. Tipoff is slated for 1:30 p.m. CT.