The Vanderbilt basketball team laid everything on the line against Kentucky last night playing their hearts out for 40 minutes, but just came up a little short in an effort to knock off a highly elite team nationally, 87-81, before 12,707 at Memorial.
Jeff Roberson, Riley LaChance, Matt Fisher-Davis, and Luke Kornet battled mightily. Payton Willis played hard but got strapped with foul trouble and had to sit on the bench a lot of the game. Nolan Cressler is a different player this year under Bryce. I love what Nacflow (Nolan's twitter handle) is doing right now. He's always played hard, but his toughness, passion for the game and energy is now combined with his shot making ability. He's a game changer off the bench for us. Nolan is playing like the stud from Cornell we knew we were getting three years ago when he transferred to VU. Joe Toye, as usual, gave us tremendous energy off the bench, and played full tilt during his time on the floor. Djery Baptiste gave great effort, but got saddled with foul trouble. Still a superb effort by the team despite the loss.
Jeff finished with 19 and 9 boards. Just played his heart out. That was Jeff's best game of the season and hopefully a harbinger for super things from Jeff going forward. Matt finished with 19, but didn't shoot his best, as he was 2-of-10 from 3, and 4-of-15 from the field. Riley played his lights out and finished with 19, going hard to the rim and scoring against Kentucky's bigs and connecting on a couple of huge 3's. And Luke was Luke. Always giving max effort. Luke finished with 16 and 8 boards. We held our own on the boards, as Kentucky barely out-rebounded us, 40-34, and that was a lot to be proud of. We went toe-to-toe with the heavyweight champ and almost pulled it off. A reporter asked Luke if he was happy we came close or angry we lost and he said, "The latter."
We were 25-of-58 from the field, 43%, but just 8-of-29 from trifecta, 28%. We finished 23-of-32 from the line, 72%, but we started off 12-of-12, so we tapered off a little bit in the second half. We needed some of those free throws. If we had shot them like we normally do, we could have won. We were shooting 88% as a team coming in. And we just rimmed out on a lot of really high quality shots from the field. It happened to Matt from three, just really close to going in. It happened to Riley, too, and Nolan made a couple of super moves to the basket only to see his layups go in and out. It was heartbreaking when those shots didn't fall, but the guys kept battling through the misses. It was a warrior-like performance and something we can build on. We fell to 8-8 o on the season and 2-2 in the SEC. No.6 Kentucky moved to 14-2 overall and 4-0 in the conference. I don't see a better team in the country than this one right now.
We held the Wildcats to 1-of-9 from three, 11%, but they shot 51% from the field, 34-of-67. Isaiah Briscoe led the Cats with 23 points and De'Aaron Fox added 22. They were both unstoppable. Our defense gave it everything it had, but Luke played much of the second half with four fouls and those guys were so quick to the rim and terrific finishers. In the first half, I wasn't sure if they were going to miss a shot. Another of their super players, Malik Monk, who has scored 47 in a game this season and is a tremendous player, scored 18, but we held him in check most of the game. He started getting some points late. They are awesome at driving to the glass and scoring, and they are excellent mid-range shooters. They usually shoot the 3 pretty well, but we held them in check last night. Their Sherman Tank, Edrice Adebayo, nicknamed "Bam" by his teammates, was tough to stop as well. He's a really good free throw shooter for a 6'11", 250 guy. He was 8-of-10 from the stripe. But Luke and Jeff held their own inside against him. I loved the aggressiveness with which we played against them. They were 18-of-24 from the stripe, 75%. They do everything well, but if a few more shots had fallen for us, we could have pulled this off. It bodes well for the rest of our season. Loved the effort by our guys. I said last night on twitter, if I'm in a foxhole, I want Riley, Luke, Jeff, Matt, Nolan and the rest of our guys in there with me.
Tennessee Saturday at Memorial at 7:30 PM CT/8:30 PM ET on the SEC Network. The Vols are 8-7 overall and 1-2 in conference and play a really good South Carolina team at home tonight at 5:30 PM CT/6:30 PM ET on the SEC Network. The Gamecocks are 12-3 overall and 2-0 in the conference, so a big test for Rick Barnes' squad. Will watch and have a preview on Friday or Saturday. Thanks a lot.