The mind was willing but the legs were heavy.
Playing its third game in as many days, fatigue caught up with Vanderbilt in a 64-52 season-ending loss to Ole Miss on Saturday in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
In the lone regular-season meeting between the teams — an overtime loss — Vanderbilt made a Memorial Gymnasium-record 17 3-pointers. On Saturday, the 10th-seeded Commodores made just six of 30 (20 percent). While No. 3 seed Ole Miss (25-8) received a first-round bye, Vanderbilt, the defending tournament champion, had to knock off Arkansas and Kentucky in consecutive days to reach its fourth straight semifinal.
“We lacked energy,” point guard Kyle Fuller said. “We lacked legs. We were really short on our shots a lot. I really feel like we could beat them even though they are a good team. I just felt like we kind of ran out of gas and ran out of the energy we usually had and that we were playing with.”
The Commodores (16-17) rode adrenaline early. The jump shots — and three 3-pointers — fell and contributed to a nine-point lead with 7:09 left in the first half. But they made just one basket in the final seven minutes as the Rebels switched to a zone defense and caught up for a 26-26 tie at halftime.
Marshall Henderson answered Sheldon Jeter’s baseline dunk with a turnaround jumper with 12:45 remaining to tie the game at 36 and spark a 24-4 run. With 3:25 left, Reginald Buckner dunked an offensive rebound for a 58-40 lead. In an 18-minute stretch, starting at the 3:55 mark in the first half, the Commodores scored just 14 points.
Coach Kevin Stallings had seen this before.
Two years ago, in Atlanta, the Commodores defeated LSU and Mississippi State in back-to-back nights to face top-seed Florida in the semifinals. Vanderbilt led by eight at halftime before hitting the proverbial wall. The Gators scored 49 points after the break and the Commodores were just 6-of-33 (18.2 percent) from 3-point range.
“We came out and they boat-raced us in the second half,” Stallings recalled. “It’s the second time that I know of where we seem to sort of run out of steam. … [On Saturday] we just had three or four guys who looked like a quart-low on energy. I don’t blame them. They didn’t choose to be or want to be but that is just the way it was. Mississippi played better than us and they deserved to win.”
Henderson finished with 23 points and Reginald Buckner added 15 as the Rebels will play Florida (26-6) in their first SEC Tournament final since 2001. Led by 16 points — all in the second half — from Kenny Boynton, the Gators rallied from a 10-point deficit to hold on for a 61-51 against Alabama earlier Saturday.
Vanderbilt, which got 12 points from Kedren Johnson, just missed getting over .500 for the first time since winning its season opener in November. The Commodores had won eight of 11 but couldn’t muster enough energy to advance to their second straight final and defend their championship.
“I feel like if this was our first game and their first game we would have the psychological and physical advantage,” Jeter said. “They had a tough game [against Missouri Friday] don’t get me wrong. But we had a tough game the first day and then we played as hard as we could yesterday. It is like the energy bar keeps going down each day and then [Saturday] we kind of ran out.”