Stanford has strung together brilliant individual performances in each of its NIT games to advance in the tournament. This time, it was Anthony Brown’s turn to shine in a game that came down to the wire.
Although No. 5 Vanderbilt (21-14) roared back towards the end, No. 2 Stanford (22-13) enjoyed a good night on offense and a standout performance from Brown as it held off the Commodores in a 78-75 victory in the NIT Quarterfinals and the team’s last match at Maples this season.
“I’m just happy we got this win,” said senior guard Chasson Randle. “Last time on this court, we thought it was our last game on our home court and we didn’t come out with a win. I thought it was a great team effort and a lot of guys stepped up tonight. It took a lot of heart.”
Stanford’s senior trio turned in a memorable performance in the final Maples appearance of their careers: Brown led all players with both his 26 points, Chasson Randle delivered a strong supporting performance with 16 points and Stefan Nastic also got into double figures with his 12.
“I think the younger guys look at us to make plays and we have to do that in order for our team to win,” Randle said. “I lean on those guys all the time to pull me up. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
After he shot just 3-of-10 in Stanford’s quarterfinal matchup with Rhode Island, Brown bounced back to form with a 9-of-15 shooting performance, including a 50 percent clip from three.
The fifth-year senior scorched the Commodores for 17 points in the first half on 11 attempts. After going 0-4 from three in the previous game against Rhode Island, Brown sank 2-of-4 in the first half and had a dazzling dunk off a steal. He also led Stanford with 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
“It feels great. Obviously we were disappointed we didn’t get to the NCAA Tournament,” Brown said. “Like Coach [Dawkins] says, we have to keep playing. Whatever we’re in, we’ve got to win it. That’s our mindset. Seniors want to go out with a win in their last game.”
“We knew that was coming,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “He had a stretch of games where he didn’t score as well as he is capable. It was a matter of time. When he plays like that, he’s one of the best players in America.”
The Cardinal’s defense held Vanderbilt to 36.7 percent shooting in the first period and took a 36-31 lead into halftime.
Stanford kept moving the ball inside to Nastic in the second half, who was able to draw fouls and find Randle and Brown on the outside. Nastic was 5-of-6 from the line and is now shooting 53-62 over his last 10 games.
Even so, Vanderbilt, the 34th-best shooting team in the nation, used a flurry of threes to keep themselves within striking distance. The game came down to the last few minutes, during which the Commodores were building a furious comeback.
Randle made two free throws with 2:20 left in the game to give Stanford a 73-62 lead. It seemed as if the Cardinal had taken control of the game, but Rosco Allen and Marcus Allen committed two costly turnovers in the last two minutes that led to two Vanderbilt free throws by James Siakam and a Fisher-Davis three that brought the game within two with 30 ticks left in the half.
The Commodores did everything they could to pull off the miraculous comeback. They forced the ball to Marcus Allen and fouled him with 22 seconds left on the clock. Allen, who is shooting 53.4 percent on the season from the stripe, made one of two. After a timeout, Vanderbilt put the ball in the hot hands of Fisher-Davis. Brown contested his 3-pointer from the right wing and the attempt was short, falling out of bounds.
Vandy once again fouled Allen, who missed both with three seconds left. A last minute half-court heave by Fisher-Davis was way short and the Cardinal’s 11-point lead was enough to get them to the semifinals of the NIT.
In the victory, Randle upped his career total to 2,326 points, leaving him just 11 away from setting a new Stanford record and fourth all-time in Pac-12 history.
“They say scorers are born. I think with Chasson, he just has an ability to put the ball in the basket,” Dawkins said. “He capitalizes on everything you give him. He’s hard to stop.”
Stanford is now headed back to Madison Square Garden for a Final Four clash with the winner of Wednesday’s match between Old Dominion and Murray State. No. 2 Miami (FL) is the other team that has already clinched a spot in the Final Four.
The Cardinal, winners of the NIT three seasons ago in 2012, will look to take home another title at Madison Square Garden over the coming week.
“There are only a few teams who can say they won their last game of the season and we want to be one of those teams,” Randle said. “We were a little bit disappointed we didn’t make it into the NCAAs, but we had an opportunity and we wanted to make the best of it and I think we’re doing that right now. Madison Square Garden is a special place. Any time you can in there and say you played a basketball game, it’s definitely an honor.”
Contact Irving Rodriguez at irodriguez ‘at’ stanford.edu.