Shots weren’t falling for the go-to shooters Wednesday night, but Florida’s bench stepped up in a must-win situation.
Despite KeVaughn Allen being held scoreless until the waning minutes, the Gators overcame a narrow deficit at halftime to claim a 66-57 win over Vanderbilt, in turn keeping the Commodores winless in conference play.
“We weren’t as sharp defensively, but we did just enough,” UF coach Mike White said. “There was a lot of negative there, but there’s a silver lining.”
In an inconsistent first half, the Gators (13-11, 5-6 SEC) struggled to convert shots from the field despite having little to no trouble getting open looks — and nine more first-half attempts — against the Commodores.
Vanderbilt would answer an early 11-1 run by the Gators with a 10-0 stretch of its own before Dontay Bassett’s jumper stopped the bleeding momentarily — but the ’Dores weren’t going away.
Despite the inefficiency from the field, nine Vanderbilt turnovers and a 21-18 advantage for UF in the rebounding department resulted in just a 33-31 deficit at the midway point.
“I thought we played better offensively in the first half,” White said. “We’ve got to make jumpshots.”
With the teams struggling to score, the contest turned overly physical as the Gators took a slim lead, resulting in 20 free throw attempts by UF in the second half. Florida would convert 18 of the attempts at the charity stripe in ultimately securing the win and sending Vanderbilt (9-15, 0-11 SEC) to its 12th consecutive loss.
Throughout Florida’s season, especially in conference play, White has expressed his disdain regarding the team’s lack of bench production, yet UF’s reserve unit arrived ready to play. Eight Gators had scored by halftime, with 17 of UF’s 31 points coming from the bench, led by eight points from Isaiah Stokes. The seldom-used power forward would finish with eight points on 3-for-5 shooting, just a point shy of his career-high set Nov. 14 against La Salle. The Gators would need his presence, as starting center Kevarrius Hayes was limited to four points in 13 minutes after getting into early foul trouble.
“The bench was definitely big. We all contributed in our own ways. Getting stops, rebounds, scoring,” Stokes said. “I’m just trying to be the best player I can be, just working on my overall game.”
After having just two makes from long-range in the first half, the Gators matched their 3-point count in the opening minutes of the second half. Freshman Keyontae Johnson opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, atoning for a missed dunk just moments earlier, before point guard Andrew Nembhard drilled one of his own.
It helped that some Gators were making shots, because the two specialists had an off-night from the floor. Allen and fellow shooting guard Noah Locke combined to go 2-for-19 from the field for nine points, snapping Allen’s streak of 12 games in double figures. Jalen Hudson, who contributed 15 points in Florida’s 73-61 loss to Tennessee, wasn’t much better as he finished with 10 points on 2-for-7 shooting, although his six conversions from the charity stripe helped keep the Gators stay in front down the stretch.
“Odd that you win a game with your two leading scorers that have really carried you in league play, going 2-for-19, with Andrew Nembhard playing 16 minutes,” White said. “Got contributions from a lot of guys, in a game you needed it most. So hats off to those guys.”
White added Locke has been injured for “probably seven weeks” and the freshman shooting guard was held out of practice prior to Wednesday night.
“He’s just trying to get through the season,” White said. “I don’t want to say much more.”
The final stretch of the season gets no easier. Florida has less than 72 hours to re-group before commencing a two-game road trip Saturday at 2 p.m. at Alabama.
“Hopefully we can build off of it,” White said. “The ability to win a close game, that’s a few now. The score wasn’t indicative of how close the game was. So, we’ll take it. Hopefully we gained some confidence from our bench.”
|FLORIDA 66, VANDERBILT 57|
Brown 2-6 2-2 6, Ryan 3-11 0-0 9, Nesmith 6-13 12-15 26, Shittu 2-5 1-2 5, Lee 2-7 0-0 4, Moyer 0-2 0-0 0, Wetzell 1-2 0-0 2, Evans 1-1 1-2 3, Toye 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 18-51 16-21 57.
Johnson 4-12 6-6 15, Hayes 1-2 2-3 4, Nembhard 4-5 0-0 9, Locke 1-10 0-0 3, Allen 1-9 4-4 6, Bassett 1-2 1-2 3, Stokes 3-5 2-2 8, Hudson 2-7 6-8 10, Ballard 1-2 0-0 3, Okauru 1-3 2-3 5. Totals 19-57 23-28 66.
Halftime_Vanderbilt 33-31. 3-Point Goals_Vanderbilt 5-24 (Ryan 3-11, Nesmith 2-6, Moyer 0-1, Lee 0-3, Toye 0-3), Florida 5-23 (Johnson 1-1, Nembhard 1-2, Ballard 1-2, Okauru 1-3, Locke 1-9, Hudson 0-1, Allen 0-5). Fouled Out_Nesmith. Rebounds_Vanderbilt 33 (Nesmith 9), Florida 37 (Johnson 9). Assists_Vanderbilt 9 (Lee 3), Florida 4 (Nembhard, Hudson, Locke, Okauru 1). Total Fouls_Vanderbilt 24, Florida 22.