Sixth-seeded Vanderbilt will look to take a step toward securing an NCAA Tournament berth when it faces 14th-seeded LSU in the second round of the SEC tournament on Thursday night in Nashville, Tenn.
The Commodores (18-13) are on the bubble and can’t afford a loss to the Tigers (14-18), who knocked off 11th-seeded Georgia 72-67 in a first-round game Wednesday. Vanderbilt most recently made the NCAA tournament in 2017.
The Commodores will be without SEC Defensive Player of the Year Liam Robbins, the team’s leading scorer (15.0 points per game), rebounder (6.8) and shot-blocker (3.2), who is out for the season after injuring his leg against Kentucky on March 1.
Without the 7-foot, 250-pound Robbins, Vanderbilt will rely even more on Tyrin Lawrence (11.8 ppg) and Jordan Wright (10.1), the only other Commodores with scoring averages in double figures.
“Everything is crucial at this point. We don’t put any pressure on one guy,” Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “We’re a team. When you look at stats and you say we lost our best player, we lost a player, he’s a big part of what we’ve done up to this point.”
Vanderbilt, which hasn’t won the SEC tournament since 2012, has won three straight since an 84-77 loss at LSU on Feb. 22.
The Tigers, who are seeking their first conference tournament title since 1980, are coming off just their second win in their past 19 games.
“Every win is huge, and it has been a big-time struggle the last couple of months,” LSU first-year coach Matt McMahon said.
“That’s the beauty of the postseason — you get another chance, another opportunity. We don’t need to worry about any championships. We need to worry about finding a way to go 1-0 on (Thursday) night and move on to the next round.”
After LSU squandered a 12-point halftime lead, freshman Shawn Phillips Jr.’s tiebreaking one-handed jam off a missed layup with about 1:10 left gave the Tigers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish against Georgia.
Phillips, who hadn’t scored more than four points in a game this season and averaged less than a point per game, finished with a season-high 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Phillips blocked Braelen Bridges’ layup with 54 seconds left, and KJ Williams’ jumper extended the lead to 71-67 with 22.7 seconds remaining.
Williams added 18 points and eight rebounds, while Trae Hannibal had his first career double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Adam Miller finished with 10 points for the Tigers.
LSU is led by Williams, who averages team highs in points (17.4 per game), rebounds (7.6) and steals (1.2), while Miller is the only other Tiger averaging in double figures in scoring at 11.8 ppg.
The winner of Thursday’s game will face third-seeded Kentucky (21-10) in the quarterfinals on Friday.
–Field Level Media