Fab Five: Florida beats Vanderbilt 71-55 for 5th straight victory

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Florida forward Isaiah Stokes drives against Vanderbilt forward Matthew Moyer in the first half \Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

By Teresa Walker, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mike White finally knows what it’s like to leave Memorial Gym with a victory.

The Florida coach had lost his first nine trips to the Southeastern Conference’s oldest gym as a player at Mississippi, then an assistant coach and even his first three with the Gators. He had company with nobody on the Florida roster having won in this gym.

Andrew Nembhard scored 19 points, and Florida beat Vanderbilt 71-55 Wednesday night to both send White home a winner and extend the Gators’ winning streak to a season-high five straight.

“I just told my staff a lot of tough memories in this place for a long time,” White said. “I started coming in here at 18 years old, I got a lot of respect for this place and this program, and it’s great to break through. Way happier though for our seniors, especially our four-year seniors in Kevarrius Hayes and KeVaughn Allen who broke through and get a chance to say they got one here. And it’s nice for Jalen Hudson as well who also played very well.”

The Gators (17-11, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) also swept Vanderbilt with their first victory at Memorial Gym since 2014. Nembhard hit his first six shots in his first game inside Memorial, and he had 12 by halftime.

“It was very comfortable out there,” Nembhard said.

Hudson added 17 points, and Hayes had 14 for the Gators.

Vanderbilt’s worst skid in program history reached 16 straight as the Commodores (9-19, 0-15) never really threatened.

“The slow start really hurt us again,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. “We changed the lineup hoping we’d get some energy to start. Credit Florida, hit some shots early, got them off to a good start and really thought Nembhard had a sensational game, really had great pace in the ball screen, really made good decisions and used his body well.”

Saben Lee led Vanderbilt with 15 points, and Simisola Shittu and Matthew Moyer each added 10. Aaron Nesmith, Vandy’s leading scorer in SEC play, was held to six points after having 26 against the Gators in Gainesville on Feb. 13.

Nembhard scored seven of the Gators’ first nine points, including an opening 3 that put Florida ahead to stay, and the Gators led 25-12 midway through the half. Vanderbilt finally knocked down some shots, and Moyer’s 3 pulled the Commodores within 34-27 with 2:20 left. Allen answered with a 3 as the Gators finished the half on a 7-2 run for a 41-29 halftime lead.

The Gators opened the second half on a 6-1 run, and Allen’s jumper with 18:28 to go gave Florida its biggest lead yet at 47-30. Nembhard’s 3 with 14:55 left made it 50-32 as the Gators seemed easily in control.

Vanderbilt fought back with a 12-4 run and pulled within 54-44 on a 3-pointer by Lee with 10:25 left. The Gators scored the next nine points and pushed the lead back to 18 down the stretch.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators absolutely needed this victory ahead of a tough closing week featuring a visit from No. 13 LSU and a trip to Rupp Arena to play No. 4 Kentucky. Now they’ve got their longest winning streak in league play since winning eight straight in 2016-17.

Vanderbilt: Points off turnovers has been among the Commodores’ biggest issues during this skid. The Commodores came into this game being outscored 249-129 just during the past 15 games, and they found themselves outscored by turnovers once again 17-4. Now 8-9 at home, they will need to beat Arkansas in the home finale to salvage a .500 record for the second time at Memorial Gym. They’ve never had a losing season on their home court.

UP NEXT

Florida: Hosts Georgia for an 8:30 p.m. game Saturday.

Vanderbilt: Visits Texas A&M on Saturday.

FLORIDA 71, VANDERBILT 55
FLORIDA (17-11)

Johnson 1-3 4-4 6, Hayes 5-5 4-4 14, Allen 2-9 1-2 6, Nembhard 7-8 2-2 19, Locke 2-6 0-0 5, Bassett 0-1 0-0 0, Stokes 2-5 0-0 4, Okauru 0-0 0-0 0, Ballard 0-0 0-0 0, Hudson 5-13 4-4 17. Totals 24-50 15-16 71.

VANDERBILT (9-19)

Nesmith 2-10 0-0 6, Ryan 1-3 0-0 2, Shittu 4-10 2-5 10, Wetzell 2-4 0-0 4, Lee 5-10 2-4 15, Brown 2-3 2-3 6, Moyer 4-7 1-2 10, Evans 1-3 0-0 2, Toye 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-51 7-14 55.

Halftime_Florida 41-29. 3-Point Goals_Florida 8-19 (Nembhard 3-3, Hudson 3-7, Allen 1-4, Locke 1-4, Johnson 0-1), Vanderbilt 6-17 (Lee 3-4, Nesmith 2-7, Moyer 1-2, Wetzell 0-1, Evans 0-1, Ryan 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Florida 27 (Johnson 6), Vanderbilt 30 (Moyer 9). Assists_Florida 11 (Locke 3), Vanderbilt 10 (Lee 5). Total Fouls_Florida 15, Vanderbilt 17.

32 COMMENTS

  1. That’s the way you handle a poor team on the road. Love that so many guys are stepping up. Hayes was an offensive juggernaut and Hudson has finally returned to last year’s form. Even with Allen having an off game, they looked great. Keep it up and the madness looks more and more certain.

  2. Wow! Where did KH find all those post moves? Good FT shooter lately, too. Secured a winning road record in conference, and a chance to protect their home court and finish 11-5. If Locke can break out of the slump, with Hudson playing well, and Hayes and Stokes contributing inside, the Gators can be a good offensive team. Go Gators!!!

  3. Like the tv guys said, Gators are heatin’ up and takin’ care a bizness! It’s nice to see Hayes getting good position and making shots. Looks like Hudson’s got his mojo workin’ again. And Nembhard gets better and better. These guys no longer look one dimensional on offense and I hope they can keep that momentum when they face the Tigers and Wildcats. Go Gators!

  4. Good win! We are playing our best basketball at the right time. Hudson has been the missing piece that we’ve been needing all season. With Stokes helping out Hayes in the middle, the hard defense we play and our threes going down we can hang with the better teams. Lets see how well we close out the season with a couple of the better SEC teams. That we give us an idea of how far we can go in the tournament. GO GATORS!

  5. If we beat UGA and get one win in the SEC tourney, I think we are in…even if we lose at Rupp and the rematch vs. LSU. If we beat UGA, LSU and get one in the SEC tourney, we are firmly in perhaps as a 9 seed. If we could figure out a way to beat UK’s length, I could see us getting as high as an 8. UGA has been playing well recently though so we can’t overlook that game.

    • I think if we beat UGA, period, we are a lock. Then it becomes all about seeding. But I agree with everything else you’ve said. I like this team’s chances of finding that 20th win, which will likely push them up onto the 9-line (and, to your point, even potentially 8 if they can find a way to win at Rupp).

  6. If Kevaughan Allen only has 2 foul shots, he ain’t doing what he should be doing. A guy who shoots 89% on foul shots needs to drive at least 10 times a game. Any less and he is letting his team down, even if they are winning. He should not be taking only outside shots.

  7. Good win. The team is playing well. I always thought Hayes should be able to score 8-10 points a game inside and he is now doing that and more. Stokes is also finally playing and helping inside. He can be even better if he improves his conditioning and loses another 20 lbs. Welcome back to the world of the living Mr. Hudson. Don’t get lost again. The team needs you. This team can do some damage if they continue to play the way they are playing.

  8. Hey GB1-maybe it’s the defense that’s preventing him from driving. Credit Vandy’s game planning for that. Way to be Negative Nancy after a win. Now-GREAT GAME last night guys!! I’m really loving Andrew’s game. He has great pace and plays with a calmness about him. The team as a whole are buying into defense and as I’ve said before defense travels (ask lsu). Even if they don’t fare well in the SEC tourney I think they will still be a tough out in the big tourney. Enjoying watching them come together and play for each other. When one guy gets beaten on his assignment his teammate picks him up and covers for him. Keep up the good work guys!!! GEAUXXX GATORS!!

    • A tough out. I think you’re right. For most of the season they have played great teams tough, only to find ways to lose. (They also found ways to lose against less than great teams). Now they’re finding ways to win by maintaining their focus on defense and avoiding mistakes. If they can keep playing tough and smart, they will make it difficult for any team, regardless of size, to get past them in the tourney. This late season turnaround has really been inspiring. Let’s hope it keeps going well into March.

  9. Really pleased with the development of this team. Earlier in the season I suggested that this was not an NCAA tournament team, and that this entire season was just about improving. The improvement has come quicker than I expected (welcome back Mr. Hudson), and now with a legitimate win streak in place, we have a fighting chance to make the tournament. If we can handle the Dogs and go 1–1 against LSU and UK we will be in great shape. I just hope we avoid going 0–3 to close out the regular season and lose all this momentum. 1–2 is realistic, but 2–1 is possible. I remember more than one Donovan team making it into the tournament with about 20 wins. With the improved play of Hudson and Allen (critical), and surprising moments of production from the front court, we are moving in the right direction. Well done Gators, well done!

  10. It was once said, “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.” Well, all good Gators are coming to the aid of ”Gator Basketball.” Hayes outscoring Allen, wow! And Nembhard showing up consistently. And beating Vandy for the 1st time @ Vandy since the last Gator Final Four team (in 2014).
    So I’m quite happy. Now comes the best 2 outta’ of 3 gauntlet. Get 2 W’s and DEFINITELY secure a middle seed (8 or 9), drop the next 3, and…?!?!? But for now, I’m enjoying the end of ”the journey.” So, Go Gators!

    • We should definitely enjoy the journey, gi. This may sound crazy, but I think I’d rather have a 12 seed than 8 or 9. The 8-9 winner will have to play the 1 seed in the second round, unless Tony Bennett and UVA stumble again. I’ll take my chances on getting the 5-12 upset that almost always happens, and then facing the 4 seed in the second round. No 5 seed wants to face a gelling Power Five team as its 12 seed opponent.

  11. One thing I will add to the good observations already posted is that we have really improved our rebounding the last few games. We are blocking out much better. Bassett didn’t have any points last night but when he was in there he did a great job on the boards.

  12. Well look-a-here….the boys are starting to heat up at the right time. You have to give Mike White credit in his handling of Jalen Hudson (in particular) and Kevaughn Allen. Combine that with Nembs coming into his own as a very efficient floor general, plus the other freshmen….and we may be sniffing the tourney. The spacing is MUCH better so the looks are good and in rhythm. STokes also seems to be on an upward trajectory and looking more like his big bro who wore Vol orange, who gave us fits at times.

    Excited at the prospects of the remaining season.

    • Smith,
      I am glad to see you give some credit to Mike White.

      People here were quick to throw him under the bus earlier in the year when the team was struggling, but then turn the focus to the improvement of the players when things get better. Although I don’t know a lot about the intricacies of college basketball I personally think that his management of this team throughout the year has not been given the credit due to him.

      Throughout the season he tried different lineups and tactics (including comments to the media that I guarantee his team heard) to get this team to perform at a peak level and kept pushing buttons with his players until he found the right combination. He also knows that the college basketball season is a marathon, not a sprint and that his team getting to this level at THIS point in the season is a critical component of success. Nice job CMW and I personally am very glad you are our coach.