Roberson’s career highs keep Vanderbilt NCAA hopes alive
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Vanderbilt developed a simple game plan in the second half: Get the ball to Jeff Roberson.
The 6-foot-6 forward from Houston posted career highs with 23 points and five 3-pointers as the Commodores extended their longest winning streak of the season to four games with a 77-48 rout of Mississippi State on Saturday.
All of Roberson’s 3-pointers and 19 of his points came in the second half as Vanderbilt (16-13, 9-7 Southeastern Conference) pulled away.
”With that stretch there, I think all that was on everybody’s mind was to get Jeff the ball,” Commodores guard Riley LaChance said. ”I mean, he’s a great shooter so we kind of expect that of him.”
Roberson hit 7 of 12 from the floor and 5 of 6 from beyond the arc with much of his family in the crowd of 9,212 at Memorial Gym.
The junior scored Vanderbilt’s first eight points of the second half before nailing three consecutive 3’s to build the Commodores’ lead to 28 points later in the half.
”I feel like everybody kept throwing me the ball whether I was open or not so I figured I might as well shoot it while I was hot,” Roberson said. ”I’m just basically playing in the system, taking shots that are available to me and just being ready and being aggressive whenever the opportunity presents itself.”
Vanderbilt kept its NCAA Tournament hopes alive, hitting 14 of 29 from 3-point range. The Commodores are the SEC’s top 3-point shooting team.
”We know we have a tough stretch ahead, obviously, with two ranked teams and the SEC Tournament, but what a great opportunity to be able to have these teams left on our schedule and to be able to still be playing for something at this time of the year,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said of next week’s games against No. 11 Kentucky and No. 13 Florida. ”So we’re encouraged and we’re excited that we have something to play for down this final stretch.”
Mississippi State (14-14, 5-11) suffered its sixth straight loss after shooting just 30 percent from the field, making 14 of 47, and committing 17 turnovers.
”This league is unforgiving,” Bulldogs coach Ben Howland said. ”It’s a very, very good league. Today, I thought that (Vanderbilt’s) experience was obviously big. They’ve got a lot of older guys that have been through the wars.”
Luke Kornet, a 7-1 senior, added 10 points and eight rebounds for the surging Commodores, who won for the seventh time in nine games. LaChance added 11 points, including three 3-pointers.
Quinndary Weatherspoon led Mississippi State with 15 points, but he was the only Bulldog in double figures. Vanderbilt made a 15-0 run that stretched from the end of the first half to early in the second half, increasing the lead to 45-23. Mississippi State went nearly nine minutes without a field goal from late in the first half to 14:33 left in the game.
”Today I think we just got it handed to (us) on both ends,” said guard I.J. Ready, the Bulldogs only senior. ”We didn’t score and at times I think we lacked defensive assignments and that’s what led to the victory they had today. They did a great job of packing it in and basically keeping us out of the paint and creating for each other.”
Vanderbilt made 50 percent of its shots from the field, including six 3-pointers, during the first 20 minutes to take a 37-23 halftime lead.
The Commodores outscored the Bulldogs 12-2 in the paint during the first 20 minutes and led the last 14 minutes of the first half.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are 12th in the 14-team SEC. Their postseason chances appear bleak.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores could boost their NCAA Tournament chances in in the last two regular-season games with both opponents ranked in the top 15. Vanderbilt is tied for sixth with Mississippi in the SEC.
ON THE BUBBLE
Vanderbilt enters the final week of the regular season on the bubble of the 68-team NCAA Tournament. The Commodores close against Kentucky and Florida.
”It starts with Kentucky,” Roberson said. ”That’s all we can focus on right now and we’ve got an opportunity to get a huge road win for our resume. We’ve got to take advantage of it.”
”We want to win these last two games,” LaChance said. ”We’ve got to be ready to play.”
Vanderbilt lost to Kentucky 87-81 on Jan. 10 before beating Florida 68-66 on Jan. 21.
Mississippi State started three freshmen and one sophomore. The Bulldogs are the least experienced of the 351 Division I teams according to KenPom.com
Mississippi State visits South Carolina on Tuesday before ending the regular season with a home game against LSU on Saturday.
Vanderbilt finishes the regular season against the top two teams in the SEC at No. 11 Kentucky on Tuesday before hosting No. 13 Florida on Saturday.