TAMPA, Fla. – Vanderbilt made NCAA Sweet 16 appearances in 2004 and 2007 because it was operating at peak performance in March.
Things were different in 2008, as the Commodores limped down the stretch, ending with an 83-62 loss to Siena on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum.
VU dropped four of its final six games of the season and finished 26-8.
“I wouldn’t say that we’ve been playing our best,” Coach Kevin Stallings said. “In other years we’ve been able to kind of get that switched around when the tournament has come, and for whatever reason we weren’t able to get that done this particular season. But we’re awfully proud of the season we had.”
The Commodores couldn’t tighten their defense this season when it mattered most.
Siena shot 56.5 percent from the floor, its best effort of the season, and quickly ended Vanderbilt’s hopes of a third straight Sweet 16 berth.
“The disappointment was really all season long I didn’t get this team to play defensively the way it had to play on a consistent enough basis,” Stallings said. “Now, 26-8, that’s not a terrible year, but we just never were consistent defensively.
“It’s completely my responsibility. I was just never able to push the right button with this group. Tonight was an apparent culmination of that.”
MAKING A MARK: Freshman walk-on guard Jamie Graham was one of Vanderbilt’s few shining lights Friday, recording two steals and six points in 10 minutes of action. He also applied his usual harassing defense.
Graham, at VU on a football scholarship, is expected to return to the basketball team next season.
“He has really added a lot to our team and added a lot to the personality of it,” Stallings said. “You just don't know how much progress a guy can make when he plays football and you’re only going to have him for part of the year.
“Jamie was a very welcome addition, and really, really a great guy to have on our team this year. We loved every minute of having him, and I thought he played very well when he was in there tonight.”
LASTING LEGACY: Vanderbilt senior Shan Foster was held to 13 points Friday, including only two in the second half, but added another milestone to his list of career achievements.
He topped the 2,000-point mark for his career and leaves Vanderbilt with 2,011 points. Only 22 other players in Southeastern Conference history have scored 2,000 points.
In addition, Foster finished with 347 3-pointers, the second-most in SEC history.
With 1:00 remaining Friday, Stallings removed Foster from the game. The 6-foot-6 senior slumped into a chair and pulled a towel over his head, but later said the 2007-08 season was successful.
“This team was a special team this year,” Foster said. “We got a lot accomplished. Any time you’re able to go 26-8, that’s obviously doing something great.”
GOLD NUGGETS: Vanderbilt sophomore guard Jermaine Beal finished the season with a school-record 158 assists. …The Commodores are now 9-11 in NCAA Tournament games. …VU had never lost to a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference team before Friday. …Vanderbilt reserve guard Keegan Bell scored five points Friday, his most in a game since Feb. 9.