NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The collapse was complete. Another winnable game went by the wayside as Florida was unable to hold another double-digit, second-half lead in a disheartening 71-68 loss to Vanderbilt at Memorial Gym.
Yet Florida redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone maintained belief that fortunes will turn for UF soon.
“We’ll bounce back,” Stone said Saturday. “I know this team. We’re resilient. I got faith in my team.”
Faith from Gator Nation is in short supply. Florida (17-10, 8-6 SEC) has lost four of its last six overall and five of its last seven SEC games. If the Gators are to turn around their woes, it must happen quickly, against the toughest stretch of their conference schedule. Florida will continue its Tennessee two-step on Wednesday at the No. 18 Vols, then host No. 10 Auburn on Saturday. From there, Florida closes the regular season with a game at Alabama and a home game against Kentucky.
Blowing a six-point lead in the final 20 seconds at home against Georgia earlier in the week was painful, but this was a lost opportunity to regain some confidence heading into the stretch run.
“I hope it affects us mentally,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Maybe it will make us better. We’ve got, what, four games left. If we don’t figure it out, it’s not going to end well. I don’t think we need confidence to play defense. I think we need some accountability and some discipline and some leadership and some communication. I think we need to do our jobs.”
The Gators went up 45-34 on an Egor Koulechov 3-pointer with 15 minutes remaining. But as has been the case all season, Florida couldn’t put an opponent away.
Vanderbilt chipped away at UF’s lead with a flurry of wide-open 3-pointers, the biggest one coming from Riley LaChance to tie the score at 62 with 5:04 left. From there, Florida and Vanderbilt traded baskets and free throws until arguably the biggest play of the game with 2:04 left.
Vanderbilt had made 20 of its first 21 free throws when LaChance made the first of two free throws to cut UF’s lead to 68-67. Then came a rare LaChance miss and the chance for Florida to retain possession with the lead. But Koulechov, normally reliable on the boards, was unable to come up with the rebound off the miss. In the loose ball scramble, Vanderbilt junior guard Joe Toye came up with the ball. With the second chance opportunity, LaChance made the Gators pay with a driving layup to give Vanderbilt a 69-68 lead with 1:53 remaining
“That’s on me,” Koulechov said. “I got to block out better, jump. I was hoping for the over the back call. I got pushed in the back. Didn’t get that. We were on the road. Not supposed to get that. Again, I gotta be more accountable than that, get that rebound, put my body on the line.”
Koulechov had a chance to atone for the mistake on the offensive end, but missed a short jumper on the baseline that was set up by point guard Chris Chiozza with 1:22 left. Then, after forcing a missed 3-pointer from Vanderbilt point guard Saben Lee, Florida had another opportunity to take the lead. The Gators had numbers in transition and junior guard Jalen Hudson just had to take it to the basket himself, but missed a makeable layup with 36 seconds left.
With 10.6 seconds left, Toye was fouled and made a pair of free throws to put Vanderbilt up 71-68. Florida had two chances to tie the game and send it to overtime. But Koulechov missed a turn-around 3-pointer with five seconds left. Kevarrius Hayes fought for an offensive rebound and dished it out to an open KeVaughn Allen, but Allen’s attempt rimmed out with one second left.
Florida was unable to hit a number of short shots in the final 10 minutes, including a missed runner in the lane by Stone and a missed wide-open layup under the basket by freshman Mike Okauru.
“Our inefficiencies at the rim continue to haunt us,” White said. “We had a bunch of looks in the paint. If you’re gonna steal one on the road, you’ve got to make a layup. You’ve got to make the five-footers with a little bit of contact.”
Stone led three UF players in double figures with 20 points. Koulechov added 14 points and Hudson scored 10 points off the bench.
The Gators led 34-28 at the half behind 15 points from Stone, who went 5 for 7 from the floor, 1 of 2 from 3-point range and 4 of 4 from the free throw line in the first 20 minutes.
“He carried us in that first half,” Koulechov said. “Thought we played really good defense, led to some easy shots for him. Guys were sharing the ball.”
Senior forward Jeff Roberson led Vanderbilt (11-16, 5-9 SEC) with 26 points, with LaChance adding 21 points. Roberson single-handedly kept Vanderbilt in the game early in the second half, scoring VU’s first 13 points of the second half as the Gators tried to pull away.
Vanderbilt won its fifth straight home game and has won four straight against the Gators at Memorial Gym.
“We’re thankful,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. “They had some really good looks, they had some late ones in that stretch. Two 3s at the end and they missed.”
|VANDERBILT 71, FLORIDA 68|
Stone 7-11 4-4 20, Hayes 2-5 1-2 5, Koulechov 5-11 0-0 14, Allen 3-8 0-0 7, Chiozza 3-10 0-0 6, Bassett 1-1 0-0 2, Ballard 0-1 0-0 0, Hudson 4-12 2-4 10, Okauru 2-4 0-1 4. Totals 27-63 7-11 68.
Roberson 6-11 12-12 26, Obinna 1-2 0-0 2, Evans 2-2 2-2 8, LaChance 7-12 5-6 21, Lee 0-4 1-2 1, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Baptiste 0-0 0-0 0, Willis 0-3 0-0 0, Toye 4-7 2-2 13. Totals 20-41 22-24 71.
Halftime_Florida 34-28. 3-Point Goals_Florida 7-19 (Koulechov 4-6, Stone 2-3, Allen 1-3, Okauru 0-1, Chiozza 0-2, Hudson 0-4), Vanderbilt 9-22 (Toye 3-6, Evans 2-2, Roberson 2-4, LaChance 2-5, Lee 0-2, Willis 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Florida 28 (Koulechov 7), Vanderbilt 30 (Roberson 8). Assists_Florida 14 (Chiozza 6), Vanderbilt 11 (LaChance 5). Total Fouls_Florida 16, Vanderbilt 16. A_10,346 (14,316).