March 30, 2007
The VandySports.com hoops season in review, part 2
Then in Columbia against nemesis South Carolina, Vandy blew a 17-point second-half lead and trailed the Gamecocks with about a minute left when Alex Gordon hit a big 3, then Vandy held on as Tre' Kelley couldn't get a good look for a potential game-winner in regulation as the Commodore defense stiffened.
With new life, Byars hit a couple of huge buckets and foul shots in the overtime's opening minutes, and the Commodores escaped with a 99-90 win in Columbia. It clinched Vandy's first 10-win season in SEC regular-season contests in the Stallings era.
Those two wins clinched Vandy's berth in March's NCAA Tournament; the only question became whether the Commodores could pick up some more wins and improve their seeding in the Big Dance. The Commodores also got a much-needed first round by in the SEC Tournament, their first since the SEC title year of 1992-93.
Few saw what was coming next; Vandy dropped consecutive games to Arkansas, the first coming on Senior Day in Memorial Gym as the Commodores fell behind early and got back in the game only for some brief second-half moments as the Razorbacks left with a stunning 82-67 win.
Vanderbilt got a re-match with the Razorbacks in the SEC Tournament's first round, and after trailing early, things looked good as a Commodore rally put Vandy up eight with about six minutes to play.
But the wheels came off; Arkansas, led by SEC freshman of the year Patrick Beverley, cut the lead, then took it for good as Gary Ervin drove the lane with seconds remaining and sunk a short jumper that sunk the Commodores for good.
A stunned Vandy team fell silent in the locker room in disbelief as to what had just happened. The Commodores returned home to await their seeding in the NCAA's, with some speculating that conference upsets might knock them out of the tournament.
Instead, a surprise of a different sort waited.
Most thought that the two late-season losses to Arkansas, which seemed to be on a train headed for nowhere until the Razorbacks beat Vandy and then won three in the SEC Tournament, would cost the Commodores several seeds in the NCAA's. In fact, most so-called "experts" had Vandy between a seven and a 10 seed in the upcoming tourney.
But when the brackets were unveiled, even the most optimistic Vandy fans were stunned to see the Commodores as a six-seed. Better yet, Vandy's first-round opponent was George Washington, a team most picked as no better than a 13-seed.
A quick glance to the second around revealed the Commodores would likely face three-seed Washington State-a good team, but perhaps not as tough a draw as third-seeded Texas A&M, Oregon or Pitt.
Should the Commodores be able to win a pair of games, a likely rematch with Georgetown awaited in the Elite Eight. Vandy fans were excited about the draw and ready for "March Madness"
and as it turned out, so was the team.
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