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Jordan Wright

It had been five years since the Vanderbilt men’s basketball team finished the regular season with a .500-or-better record.

With their 63-61 win over Ole Miss on Saturday, the Commodores finished 15-15, notching their most single-season wins since Bryce Drew’s first year in 2016-17.

Although the victory didn’t improve Vanderbilt’s SEC Tournament seeding (the team wrapped up the No. 11 seed prior to Saturday), the ‘Dores confidence is presumably at its peak after wrapping up the school’s highest tourney seed and best season since 2017.

“It’s a big accomplishment for our team,” VU head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “Obviously, we feel that we’re a better team than what our record shows with a lot of the close games that could have went our way. But at the end of the day, I’m still proud of these guys…to come in here three years ago when this team was in disarray and we’re just trying to find ourselves to be two and a half to three years removed from that and finish a season at .500 and have an opportunity to build on that with the (SEC) tournament…a lot of positives, a lot of good things to talk about.”

It was Vanderbilt’s ninth game this season decided by five points or less. The ‘Dores were 3-5 in such games before Saturday’s win.

Playing so many close games is what the players credit for prepping them to close out the Rebels on the road.

“I think we had a lot better poise down the stretch,” junior guard Jordan Wright said. “The last couple of games we got flustered, I had a turnover later, we didn’t make our shots late, so just going down the stretch … we had a better awareness of the game and understanding the situation. 

“We’ve been in this situation a lot now, there really is now pressure for us here, we’re kind of getting used to it. In those big games, you just need to know what to do going down the stretch and I think we’ve kind of turned that corner here.”

Vandy’s seven conference wins this year are the team’s most since the 2016-17 season. While it may not seem like much to celebrate, the ‘Dores have come a long way since going 0-18 in conference play during Stackhouse’s first year in 2018.

With the regular season wrapped up, the Commodores now shift their attention to the SEC Tournament. 

The No. 11 seed Vanderbilt faces the No. 14 seed Georgia on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. CST at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Florida. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.

“We knew coming into [Saturday] there was a lot at stake for us,” Wright added. “We’ve improved every single year. We didn’t have the results we wanted this year, but as coach said we’re at .500 and we haven’t had one of those seasons yet. So, we just wanted to get some momentum going into the SEC Tournament and try to go on a run here late and then possibly play in the postseason.”

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_