If Vanderbilt hopes to get back in the thick of things in a lousy Southeastern Conference, a three-game homestand is a good place to start.
Stuck in the program’s first four-game losing streak in four years, the Commodores host Arkansas on Saturday (12:30 p.m., SEC Network) for the first of three straight games at Memorial Gymnasium. The Razorbacks just whipped No. 2 Florida 80-69 on Tuesday but have yet to win on the road. Neither has Tennessee, which comes to Nashville on Wednesday. Texas A&M, which has lost five of six, caps the stretch next Saturday.
“It is an opportunity for us to turn things around and that’s what we’re looking to do,” forward Rod Odom said. “We are a group that is going to be together for a while so no one’s packing it in. Everyone really feels like we have an opportunity to turn things around because of how close things have been the last few games.”
Arkansas (14-8, 5-4) brings a two-game win streak. The Razorbacks, 14-1 at home but 0-5 on the road, thumped Vanderbilt last month 56-33. They forced the Commodores into a season-high 26 turnovers, including five by point guard Kedren Johnson, Vanderbilt’s leading scorer who hurt his shoulder in that game and sustained the same injury on Wednesday in a 57-56 loss to LSU.
While battling Johnny O’Bryant for a rebound, Johnson’s right shoulder was pulled upward. It was the third time this season he endured a shoulder subluxation, or partial dislocation. He stayed in the game but scored just five points and missed 10 of 12 shots. Johnson, the only Vanderbilt player to start every game this season, expects to play Saturday.
“Mostly [the injury impacts] just shooting,” Johnson said on Thursday. “It’s got a little hitch in it so when I raise it up it kind of hesitates sometimes. My strength is a little bit weaker than what it normally is.”
Vanderbilt (8-13, 2-7) has dropped its last three league games by six points, including one-point losses at Tennessee and LSU. On Wednesday, a 16-0 run by LSU to end the first half was too much to overcome. Stallings also pointed to horrific 35.1 percent shooting from the field, which isn’t out of character for his team.
The Commodores have failed to score 60 points in any of the last four games, the first such stretch since 2002. Vanderbilt ranks last in the SEC in scoring offense (59.2 points per game) and field-goal percentage (40.8).
“You don’t understand that at this juncture of the season why you would miss so badly so many times in a game,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “There’s certainly nothing positive for me out of [the LSU game]. We self-destructed at the end of the first half and really kind of lost the game right then. We just have to play better.”
If they don’t, the Commodores are on track to set several dubious records.
With just nine regular-season games left, they’ve already accumulated their most losses in seven years. The school record for the most losses in a season is 18, set twice – in 1925-26 and in 2002-03. The latter was Stallings’ fourth season at the helm and the last time Vanderbilt lost at least five consecutive games.
With a 5-5 home record, the Commodores also need to win three of their final five homes game to avoid suffering the most losses in a season in Memorial Gymnasium history. Five Vanderbilt teams have lost seven games in a season in the 60-year-old venue but it hasn’t happened since 1969-70.
“It will turn around at some point,” Stallings said. “And we’ll look forward to that, too. We’ll look forward to when it turns around. But we’ve got to make it turn around. It’s not going to just happen because we want it to happen. It’s got to happen because we make it happen.”