Matthew Fisher-Davis still watches the game.
It’s saved on his laptop, and the Vanderbilt guard has seen it countless times from different angles since the first-round loss in March. Sometimes, he follows himself to see where he can improve. Other times, he focuses on the team’s poor defensive rotations or lazy free-throw rebounding.
But he always watches the score. At this point, it’s all he can do.
Fisher-Davis knows it by heart now: Northwestern 68, Vanderbilt 66. How could he forget? He was responsible for a third of the Commodores’ points, including a team-high three 3-pointers and five free throws. But it’s the two points he gave away on an intentional foul that defined the game.
“I don’t want that last play to be the last taste I have playing in the NCAA tournament,” he said in a recent interview with the Observer.
Fisher-Davis said he’s never been a player who looks at the scoreboard. He’s a natural-born scorer who’s always aware of the situation, dating to his high school days at Butler and Charlotte Christian. Against Northwestern, he remembers glancing at the scoreboard at one point during free throws – it didn’t matter when. He was in the flow of the game.
But when teammate Riley LaChance sank a go-ahead layup with 17 seconds left, Fisher-Davis didn’t know the score. Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew locked eyes with the 6-foot-5 guard and pointed at Northwestern point guard Bryant McIntosh, who had gashed the Commodores’ defense with 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting.
Fisher-Davis guarded McIntosh down the stretch, holding him to one field goal in the final five minutes. He also kept McIntosh – an 87 percent free-throw shooter – away from the foul line .
When Drew pointed, that changed.
“I guess he was just pointing out matchups,” Fisher-Davis said, “and I just had a brain freeze.”
Fisher-Davis said he thought his team trailed by one and would have fouled regardless of Drew’s sideline motion. Once he did, he immediately realized his mistake. But the damage was done. McIntosh knocked down both free throws to give the Wildcats a 66-65 lead.
Fourteen seconds later, Northwestern celebrated the school’s first NCAA tournament win. The Commodores’ season was over.
“It definitely weighed on me,” Fisher-Davis said.
He still watches the tape to determine when exactly the score got away from him. He suspects it came when one of Northwestern’s inconsistent free-throw shooters – likely center Dererk Pardon, who shot 54.4 percent last season – was at the line. But Pardon made his final six free throws, his only two misses coming with 15 minutes, 38 second left.
Pardon rebounded another teammate’s miss two minutes later, and the Wildcats didn’t miss another free throw until 53 seconds left. Fittingly, Fisher-Davis grabbed the rebound. The only other miss came with one second left, well after the intentional foul.
But even if the replay doesn’t reveal when Fisher-Davis lost track of the situation, it shows the defensive errors and poor offensive plays that likely cost Vanderbilt the game.
“There were a lot of little things that could have affected the outcome,” he said.
Fisher-Davis’ flub punctuated his bittersweet season with a sour note. The junior led Vanderbilt with 13.9 points per game and made 81 3-pointers, second in the SEC to Kentucky’s Malik Monk. But Fisher-Davis was also benched three times for disciplinary reasons, the final time securing his spot on the bench for the rest of the year.
Yet the Commodores (19-16) wouldn’t have been in position to win if not for Fisher-Davis – something his coaches and teammates reminded him after the loss.
Coming off the bench, Fisher-Davis scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half to help erase a 15-point deficit. But it was the final two points he allowed that kept Vanderbilt from facing No. 1 seed Gonzaga, a team Fisher-Davis says the ninth-seeded Commodores matched up well with.
Fisher-Davis said he didn’t move on from the inadvertent foul until after Gonzaga lost to North Carolina in the national championship game. He wasn’t alone.
In the immediate aftermath, Fisher-Davis was the subject of mockery from fans, alumni and pundits. He didn’t see most of it – the Commodores boarded a plane right after the game, and his girlfriend logged onto his Twitter account and deleted the most vitriolic comments.
When he arrived back at Vanderbilt, his phone was flooded with encouragement.
“A lot of the negative stuff, I really didn’t even see,” Fisher-Davis said. “It was just a lot to even go through, so I didn’t even read any of it.”
Though he said he rarely thinks about the foul anymore, he still gets a few jokes at his expense, whether at a gas station or a restaurant or just walking around Vanderbilt.
Fisher-Davis has been on campus since May – with a one-week stop at home in Charlotte – taking classes and training for next season. He chose not to enter the NBA draft to return to school for his senior year, partly to improve his game and to fulfill a promise to his grandmother to finish his degree.
He said he wants to lead the SEC in scoring next season after finishing 18th last year. He wants to start anew with Drew after a rocky start to the coach’s debut season.. He wants to cement his legacy alongside three of his teammates from the recruiting class of 2014: 2016 NBA first-round pick Wade Baldwin and current starters LaChance and Jeff Roberson.
And, of course, he wants to return to the NCAA tournament, where he can rewrite the worst memory of his basketball career. He knows he’ll get questioned about the foul if the Commodores return to the postseason, but he’s not worried about that now.
“At that point, it’s just another game,” he said.
This time, he’ll know the score.
C Jackson Cowart on Twitter: @CJacksonCowart