Much-needed win for Gators: Florida 66, Vanderbilt 57

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Florida guard Andrew Nembhard goes in for a layup as Vanderbilt forwards Aaron Nesmith (24) and Clevon Brown (15) attempt to block the attempt Wednesday at the O'Connell Center. [Lauren Bacho/Staff photographer]

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
VANDERBILT (9-15)

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.

FLORIDA (13-11)

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.

13 COMMENTS

  1. The only way to have a real chance is to lose to LSU at Baton Rouge and Kentucky at Rupp. Win the rest….translation no chance for NCAA maybe and that’s a big maybe NIT. Seniors combined for 4 of 18. Freshman sharp shooter Locke 1 of 10. Amazing we won the game. Somewhere among all this futility is the fact we were up on quite a few teams and lost, up on Kentucky by 11 in 2nd half and lost and led Tennessee at half and lost. Going to keep watching and scratching head. This team is…well it has all been said here on this site to describe this edition of the mighty Gators! I wish someone down south would point the fans north and send us some warm air. Cold weather getting old in South Dakota. GO GATORS!

  2. Watched for 5 minutes as Vandy scored to take the lead after trailing by 12. The only consistency on the court is the players are cconsistently inconsistent. Beating Vandy by 9 at home this year is like beating the poor sisters of the blind. Waiit a minute. I think the sisters of the blind might shoot a lot better than Florida. I only see a possible NIT bid–and that’s only if they finish above .500.

  3. Not a great win but a win. Thank God we made some free throws at the end of the game. Hudson did a good job driving to the basket, getting fouled and hitting his foul shots. I’m still scratch my head at the offensive end wondering if we do anything other than shot threes. Everyone just wants to shot a three but that’s because we are smaller than most teams and can’t drive one on one. I still think CMW doesn’t call timeouts when we need them. He only used one in the first half and that was with 17 seconds left or something like that. Also what a bone head move for taking out Hudson and putting in Hayes at the end when they were pressing. Why take out a good free throw shooter and put in your worst? What you do is put your good shooters and handlers on the floor and after they foul you sub Hayes back in for D. Then if they score you sub Hudson back again with a timeout. They were leaving Hayes wide open so we would throw it to him on the in bounds and they could foul him. It almost worked because they got within five of us but since Vandy is horrible this year they couldn’t pull it off. Oh well it is what it is…Go Gators!

  4. The following words summed up this Gator win:

    “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.”

    18 of 20 at “the charity stripe” won this game going away. That proves a point I’ve made in other posts. The thing about MAKING those boring foul shots is that not even Duke can stop them! It’s up to the Gators to continue making most of their foul shots when put on the “charity stripe” if they want to make the NCAA, or even the NIT tourney.

    Go Gators!!!

  5. This hasnt been a fun team to watch this season, but if they can somehow finish the last 7 games 4-3 (it wont be easy), they will probably make the big dance. 9-9 in conference play is what Mark Wise seems to think will get them in. And for the question about which tourney this team should play in, I would rather see them lose the opening round game in the dance than win a couple in the NIT.

  6. Sparky, I agree the Gators have been fun to watch; they play great (almost) defense, and their offensive ball movement is also very good. Unfortunately they cannot buy baskets, even layups. I recognize we are undersized, but 5-18 from 3 point range won’t win many games, but neither will 33% (19 0f 57) overall shooting. Free throws seem to be better this year, so if we just made 45% of the 57 shots and all 2 pointers we would have scored 75 points. The Gators have been missing easy, wide-open shots all year, but we have been blessed with Allen’s and Nembhard’s assists and steals and Hayes’ steals and block shots (not bad for an undersized center). Now, if we can just show some shooting improvement and consistency for the end of the season, we may yet make it to the dance.

  7. Gators have had 7 different players lead the team in game scoring. Allen averages 12.5 ppg and Locke at 10.4. That is NOT going to get a team to make a stretch run to the dance. Hudson has 1 game as points leader. One game from a guy who thought about turning pro last year. I think the European d-league has an opening for a reserve player.

  8. This team is not going to the post season. They will be lucky to end the season at .500. They struggled to beat Vandy for gods sake. Allen and Locke could not hit a shot. How are they going to beat any team of substance? They are not. They can’t. They have no offense. No inside game. Inconsistent outside shooting. No body to drive to the basket. No one who can finish. Forget thus year. The question is what are they going to have next year? Will they be able to score? Where are the points going to come from? What will be their identity next year?