Kevin Stallings prefers to avoid taking the lumps if he can help it.
But six games into his 14th season as Vanderbilt’s head coach, it appears he’ll have to swallow the losses if that helps his young team in the long run.
The Commodores battled back against visiting Villanova on Saturday at Memorial Gymnasium but fell just short, losing 62-52. Vanderbilt (2-4) has dropped four of five and is off to its worst start since the 1988-89 season.
“Perhaps we do,” Stallings said. “It is, of course, going to be disappointing if that is the way it is going to have to be. We get the game in the balance and we have two atrocious defensive possessions. Our team can’t afford that. We don’t score easily enough to where we can have bad defensive possessions.”
Trailing by eight early in the second half, the Commodores hung around thanks to perimeter shooting.
Kedren Johnson’s 3-pointer, followed by two Shelby Moats free throws cut the deficit to 46-44 with 7:18 remaining.
Then Villanova (4-3) capitalized twice on the defensive mishaps. Darrun Hilliard easily split the defense down the middle for an open layup. Johnson then opted to drive inside and lost control of the ball. Ryan Arcidiacono found an open Mouphtaou Yarou on the other end for an easy basket, shifting the momentum back to the Wildcats.
Vanderbilt scored just two baskets the rest of the way as Villanova sealed the win with free-throw shooting. The Wildcats were 18 of 25 at the line, including 10 from Yarou. The 6-foot-10, 255-pounder led all scorers with 16 points.
“We don’t protect the basket, they throw the ball to the basket to a guy for a layup because we didn’t secure the goal,” Stallings said. “Then it goes from two to six and the air kind of goes out of the gym.”
The Commodores shot just 37 percent and were outrebounded 34-28. They failed to grabbed an offensive rebound after halftime and finished with just four.
Still, they led for much of the first half, taking a 14-9 lead less than eight minutes in. But Villanova, which had lost three straight, pulled in front right before halftime. Arcidiacono’s 25-foot 3-pointer with 1:08 left gave the Wildcats a 31-26 lead going into halftime.
Rod Odom led Vanderbilt with 14 points. Johnson and Kevin Bright each scored 12. Bright, a freshman, notched his first career double-double with a career-high 12 rebounds.
“We kept fighting,” Odom said. “But in the end we gave up too many easy buckets down the stretch. I think that is really what did us in the game.”
• Vanderbilt women roll: The Commodores scored the first 15 points and held visiting Tennessee Tech scoreless for nearly six minutes as they cruised to a 77-50 victory on Saturday at Memorial Gymnasium.
Tiffany Clarke scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Elan Brown added 10 points and nine rebounds as 10 players scored for the Commodores (5-3).