The setting will be different on Wednesday night. UAB basketball head coach Andy Kennedy understands that. He’s well aware of the quirkiness of Memorial Gymnasium on the campus of Vanderbilt University.
“It’s strange,” Kennedy said. “When I was there, they wouldn’t let the coach come off the baseline. I think, now, you can come off the baseline. When the game is away from you, you’re going to have to have some leadership because your voice rings hollow. As you get deeper into this NIT and the sting of not getting to the NCAA Tournament wears off, people get excited again.”
Kennedy expects excitement from both sides when UAB visits Vanderbilt on Wednesday night in a NIT quarterfinal game at Memorial Gymnasium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 with tip-off slated for 6 p.m.
Kennedy is a veteran of playing at Vanderbilt, compiling a 4-3 record there as the Ole Miss head coach. Some of the UAB players have also played at Memorial Gymnasium before they came to Birmingham. Eric Gaines scored 14 points last season while playing for LSU in a 75-66 loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville. KJ Buffen had five points and seven rebounds for Ole Miss at Vanderbilt during the 2018-2019 season. Javian Davis had 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots in a win at Vanderbilt in his redshirt freshman season at Alabama. Ty Brewer had 26 points and 12 rebounds while playing for Southeastern Louisiana in a loss at Vanderbilt on Nov. 25, 2019.
At least they will be familiar with the surroundings during Wednesday night’s game.
“I loved it, having their fans down there at court level,” Brewer said. “It’s a pretty good environment, you gotta hoop. We got to come out ready ... or you’re going to be punched in the mouth.”
This season, Vanderbilt had a 10-12 record after a 101-44 loss at Alabama on Jan. 31. Nothing that happened to that point suggested the Commodores would still be playing now. But, they turned the season around by winning nine of their last 10 regular season games and advancing to the SEC Tournament quarterfinals before losing to Texas A&M. It wasn’t quite enough, though, to get Jerry Stackhouse’s Vanderbilt team into the NCAA Tournament.
“Jerry has done a good job,” Kennedy said “They just kind of stayed the course, stayed the course, stayed the course. They caught fire at the end of the season. They’re playing as good as anybody in college basketball. I think they’ve won 75 or 80 percent of their games these past six weeks. They were just having such a hard hill to climb they just came up a little bit short. Like Stack, good coach, great program, nothing but respect for Vandy. I’ve had many of battle in that building, looking forward to another one.”
Vanderbilt (22-14) entered the NIT without two key pieces to the lineup. Liam Robbins, a 7-foot senior, was lost late in the regular season with a leg injury and Myles Stutt, the team’s leader with 74 3-pointers, chose to enter the transfer portal. Tyrin Lawrence, a 6-foot-4 junior, and 6-0 point guard Ezra Manjon made plays late in the comeback NIT second round win over Michigan to keep Vanderbilt alive.
For UAB, it’s one more chance for six seniors to extend their college basketball careers. Jordan “Jelly” Walker is looking to bounce back after a tough shooting afternoon in Sunday’s win over Morehead State. But it will take contributions throughout the lineup for the Blazers (27-9) to advance into the NIT semifinals, which will be played in Las Vegas.
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