BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Vanderbilt head basketball coach Jerry Stackhouse was proud of the fight his team showed at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville on Saturday afternoon – both literally and figuratively.
The Commodores (8-8, 2-2) rebounded from a first-half skirmish that saw Arkansas take a 10-point lead while getting seven points on one trip down the court by scoring 63 second-half points en route to a 97-84 win over the No. 15 Razorbacks.
“Those guys just battled and fought,” Stackhouse said. “We battled some adversity. You are going to have that when the game gets a little chippy sometimes. But I thought our guys just kept battling, kept fighting and kept executing. I think that was the key thing through all of that – we kept executing.
“…The 63 points in the second half, I can’t say I saw that (coming), but it shows what this team is capable of when they are playing together.”
Vanderbilt shot 52 percent from the field overall, nailed 10 of its 18 3-point attempts and 29 of its 36 free throws while handing Arkansas
“In that second half, they did exactly what we’ve been talking about,” Stackhouse said. “They led by example. No rah rah. Nothing but going out there and executing and being the veteran team that we are and playing like the veteran players that they did. I mean, it was on them. They they just competed.”
Arkansas (12-5, 1-4) led by just three points with 49 seconds left in the first half when Anthony Black scored inside, was fouled and stood tauntingly over Quentin Miller-Brown.
Vanderbilt point guard Ezra Manjon pushed Black, was assessed both a technical and a flagrant two foul, which brought about his ejection, an event that in turn into a technical being assessed on an irate Stackhouse.
Black added a free throw and Ricky Council went 5 of 7 and Arkansas went up 42-32 although Jordan Wright’s basket with 16 seconds before intermission cut that deficit to eight points.
Stackhouse was not happy with the explanation he received from the referees.
“None that would make sense to either you or I,” Stackhouse said to t4he announcers on his postgame radio show. “I just asked them to go and really take a look before you make any haste decision on who needs to be kicked out and all of this.
“I mean a guy can’t come and stand over my teammate, and actually put his foot on him, and not expect somebody to respond. Lucky I wasn’t playing. I am proud of Ez. The guys really stepped up for him in the second half. Trey was unbelievable, logged big minutes there when Ez got out.
“I want our guys pulling for each other. You got your brother down theere on the floor, somebody is standing on top of them, I will take that every time because we are a team. We can weather the storm and we have other guys that can step up if we lose one of our brothers.”
It is the type of win Stackhouse said he expected because he has an older team that has fought through adversity the last few years.
“It just what we have been talking about, man,” Stackhouse said. “I am so proud of that older group. I have been talking about that for the longest, for them to win these type of games. We we should win these games because of our experience. You have to play well and got to have some performances, which we did, but our experience and our understanding and the tough losses we’ve had over the years supposed to help us win this game. That key group we had out there, they executed and they defended the way they were supposed to.”
Council 16 of his team-high 24 points before halftime while Black had 15 of his 18 points in the opening half, but was slowed down by Jordan Wright in the second.
“We put him on the best guy all the time,” Vanderbilt center Liam Robbins said of Wright. “We trust him with everything on defense when he’s guarding their guy, they get flustered, they get out of sorts. And we’re able to go out in transition run. It all starts with him. He’s our leader. He’s our catalyst and we won because of him.”
Devo Davis added 17, but Stackhouse said a defensive adjustment slowed d own Council and Black.
“We handled their pick and rolls a lot better than we did in the first half,” Stackhouse said. “They kind of got a rhythm on our drop coverages. Those guys were playing in the mid-range and making shots. But I thought we did a better job ion mixing it up. We hit them a little bit, flat showed a little bit and got aggressive on the sides.”
Tyrin Lawrence led Vanderbilt with 22 points while Wright added 17, Myles Stute 15, Robbins 14 and Trey Thomas 13 for the Commodores.
The 7-foot Robbins had all 14 of his points in the second half after playing a single minute in the first half and picking up two quick fouls.
“We wanted to establish him,” Stackhouse said. “He obviously got the two quick ones in the first half so we decided to not waste any time and go ahead and establish him right away. He was a big weapon for us, being able to throw it inside. He is a willing passer. All of bigs are willing passers. He can see over the defense and once we do our actions, split and do things on the weak side, then it gives him room to work.”
Vanderbilt, coming off close losses at Missouri and at Tennessee, host Alabama on Tuesday night.
“That was a good win against a quality team and now we have another one coming in here Tuesday and I am pretty sure we will be up and jacked for that one, too,” Stackhouse said.