I'm not really sure where to begin. I think the place to start is by thanking this senior class for a tremendous 4 years. There were certainly disappointments along the way, but I have nothing but gratitude for the way these guys played, the effort they put in, and the way they represented Vanderbilt university. To Jeffery, Lance, Brad, Festus, and Steve, thank you.
Tonight was a difficult game. Wisconsin is a good and disciplined team and they were able to dictate the pace of play. That was a major reason why they won. Another reason was because the Badgers played tremendous perimeter defense and did something hardly any other team had been able to do all season: contain John Jenkins. The SEC scoring leader the last two seasons was held to 13 points on 3-13 shooting including 2-9 from 3. He could never get going, in part because of how effective Wisconsin was in shadowing him.
The final stats are what they are and show that this was a close game between 2 quality teams. I won't belabor going over them because I'm not sure I've got much to add to them. Again, they are what they are.
The Shot. John Jenkins attempted a 3 pointer with 4 seconds left. Vanderbilt was down 2. It was probably his best look all night. And he missed. It happens. There was some chatter about whether Stallings should have called a time out when Lance grabbed the rebound with 16 seconds left as Gasner's free throw missed. It's a philosophical coaching decision whether to call time-out in that situation. Some people think you call time to set up an offense, others think you don't in order to prevent the defense from getting set. Whatever side of the divide you fall, whether Stallings called time out or not had zero impact on the final result. Jenkins got a great look at the basket. He just missed. If they'd called time-out, Stallings would have called the exact same play only this time the Wisconsin defense might have been able to deny Jenkins the way they had all night.
What happened after the miss will haunt Commodore fans for some time. Jeff Greene's missed travel this was not. But it was bad. Really bad. Astonishingly bad.
Festus Ezeli was mugged under the basket, by not one, but two Wisconsin Badgers. As Stallings pointed out in his post-game press conference, the big man had already missed the front end of a 1=and-1 a minute earlier. There was no guarantee he'd have made both shots to tie the game at 59. But that doesn't matter. It was an egregious no-call in a game abysmally officiated.
The Refs. I hate to do this, but I really can't help myself. I'm not doing to say that we lost the game because of the officiating. But they certainly didn't help. The missed mauling of Festus under the basket was only the final example of a game that was, at best, inconsistently called. First and foremost, the officials changed the complexion of the game by saddling Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsely with foul trouble in the 1st half on offensive foul calls that simply weren't there. The pendulum has shifted too far against offensive players in college basketball and it should be addressed as soon as possible (Jay Bilas, we need you, buddy). As I mentioned in my post-Harvard recap, charges and offensive fouls are called with too much frequency. Any contact initiated by the offense seemed to warrant a whistle, at least it did in the 1st half when Vanderbilt had the ball. In total, 5 offensive fouls were called against the Commodores in the first 20 minutes (their only turnovers of the half, I believe). Maybe I'm crazy, but I think you'd be hard pressed to say there should be 5 offensive fouls called on both teams in an entire game. To earn a charge, the defensive player has to be set and establish position. Absent the lowering of a shoulder or a push-off, it's either a block or a no-call.
To me, the most egregious call of the night was the push-off called against Brad in the second half with 8:42 remaining. There was incidental contact at best and a arm that wasn't even extended that sent Brad to the bench with his 4th foul of the contest. Brad hit a 16 foot jumper with the Commodores down 4 that was negated by an offensive foul call that even the announcers were unable to see. As I mentioned, that was Brad's 4th. He went to the bench, Wisconsin scored a bucket on the next possession and went up 6. Vanderbilt didn't score again until the 6:07 mark. The ticky-tack nature of this call, when compared to other contact that wasn't called (the last and most noteworthy example being the no-call under the basket at the end of the game) is what's so frustrating.
Also, the 3rd foul Jeffery was whistled for is not a foul. It was good defense. If you were going to call Jeffery for blocking, Brad's disallowed jumper should have been an and-1. You can't call offensive fouls all night against Vanderbilt and whistle JT there.
A Bad 2:30. The start of the second half was a critical period of time for the Commodores. Down 1 at the half, we came out aggressive with Jeffery knocking down a jumper to give Vanderbilt its first lead of the game at 33-32. On the very next possession, Festus made a great play to get a steal. The Commodores turned it over on the next 4 possessions, allowing the Badgers to reclaim the lead, re-establish momentum (that was clearly shifting to Vanderbilt after Brad's 3 at the end of the 1st half to cut the lead to 1), and open up a 7 point lead. Wisconsin turned 4 turnovers into 8 points and ensured the Commodores would be playing from behind all half.
Kevin Stallings' guys fought back and stayed in the game, but this 2:30 between Commodore shot attempts (Jenkins was fouled on a 3 and connected on 2 of 3 free throws) was perhaps Vanderbilt's best opportunity to take control of the game. They didn't.
The zone. The 2-3 zone was incredibly effective. As anyone who was watching with me can attest (as well as those of you who participated in the live-blog knows, I thought we should have gone to it sooner. Credit where credit is due, once Vanderbilt switched to the zone, Wisconsin still hit 2 big treys with the shot-clock winding down from deep. Still, there was no doubt that the zone negatively effected Wisconsin and affected their offensive rhythm.
What was devastating for the Commodores was their inability to grab a defensive rebound on Wisconsin's penultimate possession. down just 2 points. Down 2, the Badgers missed 2 threes that resulted in long rebounds neither of which Vanderbilt was able to haul in. Part of it was bad luck and part of it was the product of the zone. Who knows what happens if the Commodores grab Ryan Evans' miss with 49 seconds remaining, but that's a question many fans will be asking themselves as tonight's result sets in.
In conclusion. I'm sure this reads like sour grapes and I would fully admit there are a lot of "ifs" "ands" and "buts" throughout this post. Like the box-score, it is what it is and there's probably no way to avoid it if you aren't wiling to say definitively, "the better team won." Wisconsin deserves a lot of credit. They played their game and ended the night with more points than Vanderbilt did. As Kevin Stallings says, it's a math contest not an art contest, and tonight, our numbers didn't add up. My reflections and opinions are not meant take anything away from Bo Ryan's Badgers. Instead, they are simply offered to explain the reasons why I am incredibly pissed that we lost this game.
The agony and the ecstasy of being a fan have been on display these last two weeks for Commodore games (if not since actually becoming a fan). Reliving and dissecting the game is what fans do, especially those with blogs.
The floor is open, VSLNation.