With his father, former Chicago Bulls great Scottie Pippen, cheering him on, Vanderbilt point guard Scotty Pippen Jr. made Dad proud and backed up his words for an 82-76 win over No. 6 seed Alabama late Thursday in the SEC Tournament before 12,121 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.
The No. 11 seed “Cinderella” Commodores (17-15) won their second straight in the tournament to advance to play No. 3 seed Kentucky (25-6), which is No. 5 in the nation with an outside chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Tip-off will be at approximately 8:30 p.m. eastern on the SEC Network.
Vanderbilt, which was 7-11 in the SEC in the regular season, can reach the NCAA Tournament only if it wins three more games — five in five days — to win this tournament and its automatic berth in the Big Dance.
“It’s March. Anything can happen,” said Vanderbilt forward Rodney Chatman, who scored 12 points and gave his team its first lead at 68-67 on three free throws with 4:26 to go. Alabama (19-13, 9-9) led 51-36 with 14:09 to play but folded.
“It’s March. These are the games that we live for and we grew up watching on TV. It’s the moment now,” Chatman said.
Pippen led all scorers with 26 points and seven assists. His floater with 1:54 left put Vanderbilt up 73-69. He followed that with a dunk for a 79-72 lead as his father celebrated in front of the SEC Network cameras that kept cutting away to him. Pippen hit his 15th free throw of 21 for the final.
“It feels great,” Pippen said.
Now, the question is did the Commodores pack enough clothes?
“I got two suits down and three to go,” Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “That’s the thought process. As I told all our coaches, ‘Don’t get on the plane if you don’t bring five suits.'”
Pippen packed a punch too.
After Vanderbilt beat Georgia 86-51 on Wednesday, Pippen didn’t act like a Cinderella.
“They’re a very beatable team,” he said of Alabama. “They’re a team we wanted to play. We’ll see tomorrow.”
Vanderbilt had lost to Alabama 74-72 on Feb. 22 at home in Nashville without Chatman, who missed much of the season with a knee injury but is healthy now.
An Alabama assistant did not like Pippen’s comments and let him know before the rematch.
“One of the Alabama coaches said, ‘You asked for it, so you’re going to get it,’ or something like that,” Pippen said. “So, it’s kind of good to get back at them and get the win.”
Alabama coach Nate Oats heard that comment as he waited to speak.
“I didn’t know anything about that,” he said. “Probably not something we want our assistants doing is talking to the other players before the game. That’s probably not the smartest thing to be doing, so (I’ll) address that afterwards here. I didn’t know anything about that.”
Stackhouse, a former NBA great like Pippen’s dad, had no problem with the pregame exchange.
“That’s fine,” he said. “That’s part of the game of basketball. It’s part of the gamesmanship, but at the end of the day, we did what we came out there for and backed it up. Got off to a little bit of a slow start, but made the plays down the stretch to help us win the game and help us survive another day.”
Pippen had a “little” to say about Kentucky too, as the Wildcats have beaten the Commodores 12 straight times with Vanderbilt’s last win on Feb. 27, 2016. Pippen, a junior, is 0-for-6 against Kentucky with 77-70 and 78-66 losses this season.
“I haven’t beat them since I’ve been here,” he said. “So, little bit of payback. Going into this game, we have a chip on our shoulder. Little bit of momentum we have, so it’s good to see them again, and we’re excited about it.”
If Vanderbilt keeps winning, some of Stackhouse’s coaches may have to do some shopping.
“I’m pretty sure they didn’t bring five suits,” he said. “But hopefully they brought five shirts and ties.”