For the 2nd consecutive season, Johnny Dawkins has his team playing well into March and are still playing basketball during March Madness......WELL... in a way. Stanford basketball in the N.I.T. Tournament under Johnny Dawkins is like going back in time to watch John Wooden or Bobby Knight coach their respective teams. Stanford came into their game vs Vanderbilt as a favorite and came out victorious in a hard fought 78-75 game at Maples Pavilion. The 2014-15 Stanford basketball team would have found a way to lose this game if it was earlier in the year but something remarkable happens to them that is unexplainable when they show up in the N.I.T.
With a "Final Four" berth on the line and a trip to Madison Square Garden, Stanford did not disappoint. Stanford had a 14-13 lead with a little over 10 minutes in the 1st half and didn't surrender that lead the rest of the night. Stanford's leader on the floor Chasson Randle came into the game needing just 27 points to surpass Todd Lichti as the all-time leading scorer in Stanford history but it was fellow Senior Anthony Brown who stole the show. Brown had 17 of his 26 points at halftime and helped Stanford head into the locker room with a 36-31 lead.
Randle who might have felt the pressure to not only break the record but help his team move on in the tourney had a very off night shooting 6-15 from the field and yet found a way to put up 16 points with 9 of those coming in the 2nd half. Randle has been a tremendous leader in his time at Stanford and officially played his last game at Maples Pavilion. He didn't get to break the school scoring record at home but he did pass up Lew Alcindor as the 4th leading scorer in conference history. Randle will at least get one more game to try and break the record. He needs only 11 more points to break the 26 year old record.
The rest of the team played its usual grind-it-out style play (which is sometimes tough to watch) and played just well enough to continue its season. Brown and Randle shot 50% from the field while the rest of the team shot 11-25 and 1-6 from 3-point land. Stanford also missed its last 3 of 4 free throws in what could have made the game less dramatic but clearly that's not Stanford's' specialty.
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The person who might have enjoyed this victory more than anyone is Johnny Dawkins himself. He has been part of hot-seat speculation all season and after a 2nd half of the season collapse and a missed NCAA Tournament berth, those rumors started to pick up in a major way. Dawkins though is 9-1 in his N.I.T. games and is 3-0 so far this season with 2 games to go for his 2nd N.I.T. championship. It might not be what Stanford fans want as this tournament technically means nothing but it's hard to fire a coach who wins a championship.
Stanford beating Vanderbilt on Tuesday night won't change the fact that this team let everyone down this season but maybe a trip to Madison Square Garden and 2 more victories will finally take this team to the next level. Dawkins has already accomplished this feat once so a championship isn't going to make him untouchable but he may buy himself another season on the Farm.
Stanford will next play on March 31st against the winner of tonight's Old Dominion versus Murray State game. Murray State will be looking for its 30th victory of the season while Old Dominion is the #1 seed in its region. Stanford has played Murray State and Old Dominion one time a piece with a neutral court 55-52 loss to Murray State in 2010 and a neutral court victory over Old Dominion in 2000.