NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida entered its matchup with Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon with a goal to clamp down and defend the 3-point line.
The Gators did it for a half, but ultimately gave up too many open looks from beyond the arc in the second half. Vanderbilt took advantage, shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range in the second half and 40.9 percent from 3-point range for the game in its 71-68 win over the Gators.
Florida went ahead 60-51 on a 3-pointer from Egor Koulechov with 7:34 remaining before Vanderbilt sank 3-pointers on three of its next four offensive possessions. Joe Toye’s 3-pointer from the top of the key cut Florida’s lead to 60-54. Then, Florida senior point guatd Chris Chiozza was caught behind a screen, which allowed Riley LaChance to sink a wide-open 3-pointer that cut UF’s lead to 60-57 with 6:19 left.
LaChance then hit a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound by freshman point guard Saben Lee to tie the score at 62 with 5:04 left.
“He’s really good and we can’t allow those back off 3s that he shoots,” Florida coach Mike White said. “And so we’re trying to make them bounce the basketball and Vandy was trying to make us bounce the basketball. When you don’t have a rotation or you have a late rotation you are worried about your guy scoring on you as opposed to you rotating …
“Some of it becomes fatigue in the second half and some if it just a lack of discipline and that’s on me.”
Florida redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone said the inability to guard the 3-point line effectively in the second half came down to lack of communication.
“We didn’t follow the scouting report on some plays,” Stone said. “Just little things.”
Navigating foul trouble
Florida once again had a tough time defending without fouling. The Gators were whistled for 11 fouls in the second half and 16 for the game. Koulechov and Florida junior forward KeVaughn Allen were each saddled with four fouls.
Koulechov was whistled for his fourth foul at the 7:17 mark after a flurry of three 3-pointers, the third of which put Florida up 60-51 with 7:34 left.
“I’ve got to be more accountable,” Koulechov said. “My teammates expect me to be out there. I wasn’t there. I picked up a silly foul. That’s on me. It’s on all of us to be locked in for 40 minutes and not 27 minutes a game. We’ve got to do better.”
LaChance picked up his fourth foul for Vanderbilt with 7:47 left in the game, but with the Commodores reeling, Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew elected to have him return to the game 30 seconds later at the 7:17 mark. Florida went at LaChance on a number of occasions trying to draw his fifth foul, and senior point guard Chris Chiozza scored a few baskets down the stretch as a result.
White subbed Koulechov back in at the 4:51 mark, but said he wasn’t wrestling bringing the grad transfer back into the game earlier.
“Just kind of evaluating every possession,” White said. “As long as we were getting decent ones offensively, decent looks, I was trying to buy as much time as possible.”
Chiozza, a Memphis native, finished with 6 points, 6 assists and 0 turnovers in the first of two return games to his home state. Chiozza has failed to score in double figures in four of five February games for the Gators. … Freshman center Isaiah Stokes did not make the trip with the Gators due to the flu, while freshman forward Chase Johnson made the trip and did not play. … Sophomore center Gorjok Gak did not play for the Gators (coach’s decision). … Florida and Vanderbilt finished an even 31-31 on the boards, though Vanderbilt outrebounded the Gators 18-17 in the second half. Florida grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and converted them into 15 second-chance points. … Stone’s 20 points were his most since scoring a career-high 23 points at Ole Miss on Jan. 13.