DAYTON, Ohio — Despite a strong showing early, the No. 11 seed Commodores made an early exit in the NCAA Tournament, falling apart in the second half and losing 70-50 to No. 11 seed Wichita State in the First Four 70-50.
After going into halftime tied 30-30, Vanderbilt was outscored 40-20 in the second half in part due to the Shockers’ stifling defense. Wichita State held the Commodores to just 24.1 percent shooting from the field in the second half, including 11.1 percent from beyond the arc.
“They were able to make shots, and we weren’t,” Stallings said. “We shoot poorly from two, we shoot poorly from three, we shoot poorly from the foul line. Typically, we’re a pretty good shooting team… but we’re not going to win many games when we don’t get a little more production from guys that we depend on and have carried us all season.”
Vanderbilt’s starters only scored 27 of the team’s 50 points. The group, which collectively averaged 56.8 points per game coming into the contest, all scored below their season averages.
Star center Damian Jones, who announced before the season he would enter the NBA Draft, was limited to just 7 first half minutes because of foul trouble, and he wasn’t particularly effective while he played.
Although he drew two fouls on the first three possessions, Jones missed all four of his free throws. He went on to miss his only two field goals of the half, pulling down one rebound. He would finish with just 5 points, tying a season-low.
“Damian got some pretty good shots that just didn’t go it,” head coach Kevin Stallings said. “He started off by missing his first four free throws, and sometimes he’s a little too fragile because he wants to do well for everyone because he’s such a nice kid. I think missing those first four free throws bothered him.”
Jones wasn’t the only one to struggle shooting, though. Matthew Fisher-Davis and Luke Kornet combined to go 1-for-9 from beyond the arc, and the team shot 15-for-26 from the line.
A large factor was Wichita State’s suffocating defense, which is top in the nation in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. The Shockers held Vanderbilt to just 30.2 percent shooting from the field on the game, including 15.8 percent from three.
“We were just really together as a team, everybody was cheering each other on,” forward Joe Toye said. “I think the energy of the bench and everyone on the court played well together. We just couldn’t finish it.”
One of the bright spots for Vanderbilt was the play of freshman Joe Toye, who led the team with 10 points, tying a career-high.
The 6-foot-7 Chicago native tied his career-high in points with three minutes left in the half and went on to also set career highs in minutes (26) and free throws made (3), shooting 3-of-6 from the field and 1-for-2 from beyond the arc.
“He’s just been very aggressive and made shots,” Stallings said. “He played himself until he was almost exhausted tonight. He didn’t do as well in the second half, but he put so much energy and effort into playing that he was truly physically very tired, and I was very proud of Joe and his performance tonight.”
Vanderbilt ends the season 19-14, two wins worse than last season but finishing in a stronger postseason tournament after making the NIT quarterfinals last season.