With 30 seconds left, Arkansas was staring at the face of disaster. Their double digit lead had completely evaporated and Vanderbilt was up 66-64 and looked poised to win their first game since December. Then newcomers stepped up. Keyshawn Embery-Simpson drained a three from the wing with just over 10 seconds left. Then Jalen Harris drew a charge at the top of the key and Mason Jones hit the necessary free throws to beat the Commodores 69-66.
The loss would have been disastrous for the Hogs, a fourth loss at home and to a team that had yet to win in SEC play would have torpedoed the Hogs’ rankings. But just enough plays were made to survive.
Daniel Gafford led all scorers with 28 points and nine rebounds. Isaiah Joe hit six shots from deep en route to 18 points. Again ball movement was key for the Hogs, as they had 18 assists on 23 made baskets. The biggest was on the final basket when Gafford passed out of a double team to find Embery-Simpson.
For the Hogs, it was an ugly and turnover filled start. The Hogs had eight turnovers in the first 12 minutes of the game, leading to 20-13 Vandy lead. The Commodores led by as much as 10 before Joe caught fire. He hit four shots from deep in the final three minutes of the half to ensure the Hogs would be down just one at the break.
While the Hogs were struggling from the field shooting, Gafford was able to draw a ton of fouls and keep the Hogs in the game at the free throw line. Vanderbilt’s two leading scorers, Saben Lee and Simisola Shittu had three fouls at the half in large part to Gafford’s work. While doing that he went 8/9 from the line in the first half.
Arkansas came out of the half aggressively and it paid off handsomely. The Hogs started the half on a 13-4 run and led 47-39. Gafford was again very involved, getting 10 of those. Arkansas took a 10 point lead with 10:17 to go when Gafford had an excellent pass out of a double team to find Reggie Chaney for a wide open dunk. From there it looked like the Hogs were in complete control, but things changed quickly.
The Commodores caught fire from three right at the same time Arkansas went cold from the field. In the next six minutes four Vandy threes led to a 15-4 run and they led 61-60 heading into the final media timeout.
While a loss was a huge potential negative, the win just keeps the Hogs treading water where they are. They are now above .500 in SEC play, temporarily jumping above a handful of teams. And now they head into a couple of road games with a three game win streak. This game isn’t one that impresses a selection committee, but it sets the Hogs up to get some crucial road wins in their next two games against Missouri and South Carolina.