For much of the season, much of Vanderbilt’s problems were rooted in the post.
On Saturday, the Commodores let their guard down, so to speak.
Futile backcourt play plagued Vanderbilt often — particularly late — during a 58-54 loss to Alabama at Memorial Gymnasium. The Commodores committed 17 turnovers and threw away an 11-point lead with 7:10 left to drop their third straight and sixth in eight games.
“You can’t win in this league if you don’t have good guard play,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “Just bad guard play. Just bad handling of the ball. Bad decision-making.”
Kedren Johnson scored 15 points and Kyle Fuller added 13 but the tandem contributed to the late struggles. Both dribbled too much and took risks — behind-the-back dribbles and crossovers — against Alabama's full court pressure. The Crimson Tide finished with 12 steals.
“[Assistant coach David] Cason told us exactly what to do and not to cross over in front of them,” Fuller said. “We still went and did that and it cost us. I’m kind of surprised that the press got us like that. We just got too sped up trying to beat them one-on-one. We didn’t really look up for teammates in order to get the ball across the court.”
In the final five minutes, the Commodores (8-12, 2-6 Southeastern Conference) committed four giveaways, three of which led to points. Johnson was responsible for two, the second when Levi Randolph picked his pocket right under the Tide’s basket. After Vanderbilt gave up three offensive rebounds on that possession, Randolph eventually hit two free throws to cut the lead to 53-51 with 4:24 left.
Fuller also got careless and Dai-Jon Parker threw an errant pass right to Trevor Lacey. Johnson committed five turnovers, center Josh Henderson had four and Fuller had three as Alabama scored 18 points off the miscues.
“Really, we just have to have better decision making,” Johnson said.
“And just listen to [Stallings],” Fuller chimed in. “He tells us that we need to slow down. We need to slow down instead of trying to speed up. We don’t have to use our athleticism all the time. We can change speeds and just make the right play. It is not always about the fancy play.”
Even so, Vanderbilt had a chance at victory.
But a miscommunication in the backcourt allowed Alabama (14-7, 6-2) to hit the game-winning shot. With 58 seconds left, a screen freed Lacey and he knocked down the go-ahead 3-pointer to give Alabama its first lead, 56-54.
“It is a play we’ve covered. Multiple teams run it,” Stallings said. “It is a little pop play that fake like you’re going to run a screen, run between the double. We’ve got a guy who is standing there that is supposed to see it, switch it if necessary. I know who it was but when I asked the question in the locker room who was the guy guarding the screener he didn’t even know.”
Alabama took a 57-54 lead when Rodney Cooper made the first of two free throws with 25 seconds left. Stallings then called a timeout to set up his offense. Cooper missed the second free throw, allowing Vanderbilt a chance to tie.
Instead of looking inside, or getting a better look from the perimeter, Fuller, who made his first three 3-pointers, fired up a quick shot from beyond the arc.
“I was already feeling it a little bit but it was definitely not a good shot,” Fuller said. “I shouldn’t have taken it. I should have pulled it out to see what I had.”
The shot bounced off the backboard and into the hands of Lacey, who was immediately fouled and made one of two free throws to seal the victory. As the play unfolded, Stallings just dropped his head in his hands and turned the other way in disbelief.
“It wasn’t exactly the kind of shot we were looking for,” Stallings said. “But just another in a long line of not very good decisions at the end of games.”