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Bunyanesque Crowds Have “Bill Filled” on Broadway, SEC Tournament Night One

@CoachRyanKy 🦉

Ahh the Music City, Nashville. The first night of the Southeastern Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament got underway on Wednesday night from Bridgestone Arena just steps off of the famed Broadway filled with lines of drunken youth and country music fans. I would be blogging this tournament from my couch, so it’s a bit of an “away” situation for myself. Tough life for a blogger. I rarely have taken the dive into the college basketball world at this point in my young journalism career. One day.

Game 1: Vanderbilt vs Arkansas, 7pm ET, SEC NETWORK

The first game of this annual reunion of foes matched the 13-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores playing the 12th seed Arkansas Razorbacks. The coaching rumor mill has it all but a forgone conclusion that Vanderbilt Head Coach Jerry Stackhouse would be coaching his final game once the ‘Dores had been bounced from the conference tournament. Luckily, he doesn’t have to worry about the awkward plane ride home. (Look for the positives Jerry!)

The tournament was underway with the Razorbacks controlling the tip and Tramon Mark immediately catching all air on an attempt from three land. Vanderbilt capitalized, making them pay with a Ven-Allen Lubin rim rocker to get scoring started :52 seconds into the game. Arkansas was able to compose themselves after the opening air ball and Kalif Battle drew a foul whistle at 17:53 to go giving the Razorbacks a narrow 1 point advantage at 6-5.

Vanderbilt took a surprising early lead in a game that most talking heads had already given to Arkansas. Ezra Manjon of the Commodores started to settle into the action, drawing contact to bring the first media timeout at 15:36. His Commodores were on top 10-8. Jerry Stackhouse has actually performed fairly well at the SEC Tournament, owning an overall record of 5-4 since 2020 according to Tom Hart of the SEC Network. In my eyes, this game would come down to Makhi Mitchell and Ven-Allen Lubin. Which player was going to control down low? They both would successfully need to defeat a collapsing double pressure on the catch, as it was both team’s goal to keep the rock out of their hands.

Luben had a beautiful explosion to the basket off of his inside pivot foot to score over Mitchell. The hometown kids held the lead at 12:41, score 14-12. Davonte Davis got involved on the offensive end, making a three pointer on an assist from Tramon Mark to put his Razorbacks up one at 19-18 with 9:51 remaining before halftime. Ezra Manjon brought his game total to 4 points on an impressive move that would be the final bucket before we hit the under eight tv timeout in the first.

This tournament is picked by many national experts to be the premier collegiate conference tournament this season. A distinction not often felt by the SEC, but could be felt by the considerably large crowd that could e described as “Bunyanesque” compared to years past.

The Commodores went on a 10-0 run, forcing Arkansas’s Musselman to call for timeout. This Razorback team felt like it had given up on their season, they were very highly ranked in most preseason polls. “We need to play like a team!”, a pleading Musselman exclaimed. Manjon capped off the ten point run with a layup to make it 37-25 ‘Dores with 3:41 to play before some paint was sure to be peeled in the Arkansas locker room. Manjon was money for his 10th point of the game coming at the buzzer. “When you compete, you make shots, we need to keep this same energy” Jerry Stachouse told media as he went to address his team up 41-27.  What a half from Manjon!

Arkansas forced a 5-second call on the Vanderbilt opening inbound. They stole possession without taking a second off of the clock. Tramon Mark got scoring started, making the ‘Dores pay. The Razorbacks body language was much better than that of the first half. Eric Musselman’s message must’ve gotten through. A sense of urgency led Tramon Mark to two points courtesy of a baseline jumper. The score 43-31, :44 seconds into the Second Half. Ezra Manjon got started back where he left off in the opening half, floating a contested layup through the rim to give his Commodores a lead 48-33 with 17:30 left before someone ended their disappointment of a season. Mark was able to get streaky, scoring five unanswered to force a Vanderbilt timeout bringing the “Woo-Pig” faithful to their feet with 15:49 left. Keeping their dreams of dancing the night away under the neon glow of Broadway in celebration instead of drowning their sorrows in a downtrodden honky tonk dive down Printer’s Alley. Arkansas was within ten points, chasing the ‘Dores at fifty-one. Mekhi Mitchell rejected a lazy layup by Lubin leading to a Vanderbilt foul committed by Malik Presley on a three point shot from Mark. A mental error that he certainly wished he had a mulligan. He went 3-for-3 to bring the Razorbacks within three. We had ourselves a ballgame!

Davonte Davis, who had missed ten three point shots in a row before tonight, swished a left-wing triple off of a Mitchell handoff to bring the ‘Backs within two, 58-56, with 9:29 to go. He had banged knees with a Commodore defender a few plays earlier, lying on the ground forcing the official to blow the whistle to stop the game. I was under the impression that he would need to be substituted as a result of the stoppage. Either I am wrong, or everyone missed that. Whatever it is, he made them pay! Trevon Mark sent a message, dialing in the super rare four-point play, Arkansas finally led after his conversion, at 62-60, 7:57 worth of ticks remained.

Both teams attacked the basket. Going to the rim on both sides with little defensive resistance before Davis forced a live ball turnover and drew a foul on Lubin, missing the layup but converting both free throws to give his Razorbacks their largest lead of the game 72-68 with 3:44 to complete the comeback.

The Arkansas Razorbacks were shaky in full court pressure leading to an El Ellis missed three pointer than Ezra Manjon drove through the lane to make the score 76-74, his Commodores trailed. The Arkansas faithful “Called the Hogs” with 43.9 to go as the game was paused on a Vanderbilt timeout. Trevon Mark bricked a triple from the corner but Ellis was able to soar through the air for an offensive rebound and zip a line to Battle who drew the piercing whistle of the referee. He dropped both charity shots, piercing the hearts momentarily of the tens of Vanderbilt fans before Manjon made a runner to bring the game back within two with :14 seconds to go. Khalif Battle, of Arkansas, made a costly turnover on the inbound leading to an Ezra Manjon buzzer beater to tie the game!! We were headed for free basketball in the first game of the week!

Overtime scoring started with Lubin jamming it through to give the Commodores a 80-78 lead :29 seconds into the extra five. Battle, forced contact on the ensuing Arkansas possession to even it back up with 100% success on that trip to the stripe with 4:11 to decide it. Brazile busted a three pointer off of a Mitchell handoff to give the Hogs a two point lead. Mitchell carried that momentum into the next possession slashing through the lane for a lay in to widen the lead to four, 2:10 of free basketball remained. Khalif Battle converted three points the Naismith way, forcing the gap to 7. Ven-Allen Lubin refused to quit, as he made a layup at 1:26. Almost immediately after, Manjon was able to add to Tramon Mark’s foul total, and his point total. Going two-‘fer, narrowing the defecit to three points, and forcing Stackhouse to call a timeout as the score was 88-85 with :47 seconds before the losers were headed to the honky tonks and winners.. Broadway.  Vanderbilt decided to play it out, a decision they would ultimately regret, as Khalif Battle converted to give Arkansas a 5 point lead that they would never relinquish.

March Madness is here!! Incredible comeback from the Razorbacks. They will face South Carolina tomorrow in the 2nd Round.

“We were playing soft, we took it personal from there.” Khalif Battle said after the game. “We have a team full of tough guys and it’s march…things can happen”, he added. “I’m a hooper, that’s what I do.”

Final Score: Arkansas 90 Vanderbilt 85

My Player of the Game: Khalif Battle, Arkansas (24 pts, 6 rebs, 3 asst, 13/14 FT)

Game 2: Missouri vs Georgia, 9:30pm ET, SEC NETWORK

The second game had large boots to fill. The announcers were bursting with giddiness of how the first game ended. 11-seed Georgia would enter as the slight favorite, but neither of these teams would tell you that they have felt their goals were achieved this season. The winner would move on to face Florida tomorrow. The Missouri Tigers won zero games in conference play and were entering the tournament as the bottom seed (14). Nick Honor, whom has been described as a “fire hydrant” by Jack "Goose" Givens is one of my favorite players in college basketball to watch. You can make your own inferences as to why.  Georgia’s Blue Cain tickled twine to take the lids off of the basket 1:28 into the game, giving the Bulldogs the first lead at 3-0.

I could tell early that this would not be the same level of basketball game as the first. Arkansas has grossly underachieved all season, but they have unbelievable talent that has the potential to play this game individually in various levels of the professional ranks. These two teams are not good, and an inferior talent pool bore most of the blame, I saw no future professional basketball players on the court.

Cain was hot early, jumping a passing lane at 13:05 to convert an easy layup in transition. Mizzou was forced to call for time at 12:52 as Head Coach Dennis Gates had to be looking to just keep it respectable at this point. He has had to learn a tough lesson in humility as these Tigers have set the record for the longest losing streak in Missouri Tiger Basketball’s 118 seasons.

Bad basketball followed more bad basketball until the “Hydrant” was fouled on a corner three pointer. The Hydrant flooded the bucket with all three to cut the Georgia lead to only double their total point total. 16-8 was the score with 9:32 holding these two from lingering Gatorade bottles in the locker room.

This basketball game was unwatchable in my opinion. These two teams were just not good. Georgia widened the lead to 27-18 with 3:10 remaining and I felt like both teams should write James Naismith’s descendants a written apology to the game of basketball. Mizzou made a small run and was able to convert on an and-1 at the buzzer to make the halftime score 31-30. “Really good outside of fouling, a couple of undisciplined fouls” said Georgia Coach Mike White when asked about what he thought his team did was doing well defensively.

Mizzou was playing with house money, as a win or loss would have literally zero effect on their season (let’s be real, Cinderella didn’t leave her slipper at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday night, she however did leave on an Arkansas Razorback). They would come out in the second half and take the lead :20 seconds into the second half on a successfully converted Tamar Bates and-one on some stout contact under the basket to put the Tigers in front 33-31.  "The Hydrant" rattled home a corner three to widen the Mizzou gap to six with 15:06 to go. Was I going to witness the impossible? Was The University of Missouri going to win a basketball game against a Southeastern Conference opponent? It started to feel like it, 7’5” Mizzou transfer Conor Vanover tipped in a rebound persuading Georgia Head Coach Mike White to call for the clock to cease  Four minutes and Thirteen seconds passed with zero buckets until Sean East II made two free throws so widen the Tiger lead to seven.

The Dawgs started to bark, pulling within three on a Cain triple assisted by Justin Hill. The score was 47-44 with 9:37 before the bill was filled in this opening act just off of Broadway. Dennis Gates designed a beautiful back cut out of the timeout resulting in an easy East layup. Georgia answered with Blue Cain, tallying his fifth three-pointer of the game with 6:10 before we would know if this Missouri team could beat a Southeastern Conference opponent in the year of 2024. The score was 53-52 and momentum was with the Dawgs. "The Hydrant" started to cook, helping his Tigers to a 59-54 advantage with three to play. Blue Cain stole a crucial inbounds pass, providing RJ Melendez with an easy layup opportunity narrowing the game to two points with just over the same number to play, 59-57. Melendez rebounded a missed East triple and found Hill on the right wing for a much needed three of his own to give Georgia the ability to play al frente with under a minute to play. Georgia led 60-59 with 42.6 seconds left when Gates called timeout for the Tigers. Missouri had plenty of opportunities, notably trying to get a look back door off of an Iverson-esque cut from East, but failed to put any points on the board. They would be forced to foul the Bulldogs at 15.2 seconds with Georgia holding a one point lead. The Tigers would foul Hill, who would go 2-for-2 from the line to put Georgia up 62-59 with 15.2 ticks before the day’s action concluded. Mizzou failed to hit a wide open three pointer from Noah Carter, forcing a foul on Georgia’s Blue Cain to put this one away. Georgia will face Florida in the night cap tomorrow night from Nashville. That was not enjoyable to watch.

“The efficiency from 3”, Mike White said when he was asked what his reactions were when looking at the box score. White, “The way they put two on the ball sometimes or double you up”, expressed some personal frustration with a demeanor that still looked to be intense. “Any SEC Tournament win is huge, I love coaching these guys.”

Final Score: 64–59

My Player of the Game: Blue Cain, Georgia Bulldogs (19 pts, 5 rebs, 50% FG)

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