3 takeaways from Florida Gators basketball team's victory at Vanderbilt
Its NCAA Tournament hopes in jeopardy, the Florida men’s basketball team secured a 82-78 win at Vanderbilt in dramatic fashion as guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr.’s corner three-point attempt with six seconds remaining in regulation turned potential disappointment into a win on the road for the Gators.
The SEC’s leading scorer, Scotty Pippen Jr., finished with a game-high 29 points for Vandy (14-15, 6-11 SEC) but he would miss a critical free throw down the stretch, sending Florida (19-11, 9-8) to victory.
The Gators, who end the regular season on Saturday against Kentucky, were again without starting forward Anthony Duruji, who missed his second consecutive contest with an undisclosed injury.
Florida saw its six-point lead turn into a nine-point deficit over a second-half stretch lasting under four minutes, though UF would rally back, repeatedly cutting the Vanderbilt lead to a manageable margin.
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The final minute was marked by Fleming’s effort.
A pair of free throws from Colin Castleton with 31 seconds remaining made it a one-possession game, and a lay-up from sophomore Tuongthach Gatkek, assisted by Fleming, just 10 seconds later put UF within a point.
On the next possession, Fleming would get a potentially game-saving block at the other end, giving the Gators a chance to retake the lead in the waning seconds. Fleming hit the go-ahead three coming out of the timeout on an assist by Castleton, who sealed the game at the free-throw line after getting fouled with four-tenths of a second left.
"We needed, obviously, every point, because these guys are incredibly difficult to defend," coach Mike White said. "Vanderbilt's the most-improved team in our league."
Here are 3 takeaways from Tuesday’s contest.
Phlandrous Fleming Jr. stars again
A game removed from scoring a UF-career-high 27 points in Florida’s win at Georgia, guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. again provided some much-needed shooting — and more — for the Gators.
The Athens, Georgia, native finished with 14 points and six assists, including the go-ahead three-pointer with six seconds left on the clock.
"It's very difficult to win on the road, but it feels amazing I can come off one of those performances and continue on with our momentum," Fleming said, "and be able to score the ball like we did today."
Fleming, who was named the Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons while in the Big South Conference, had active hands on the other end, too. He’d record three steals of UF’s six steals, giving the Charleston Southern transfer a team-high 43 on the season, as well as a critical block on Pippen in the final minute to keep the Gators within one.
Asked to choose a favorite between his two game-changing plays, Fleming opted for the defensive one, and the Vanderbilt crowd might have had something to do with his decision.
"100 percent the block. Everybody in the gym thought he (Pippen) had it, I thought he was going to try to dunk it, but my teammates even told me that if they would have seen a picture, they didn't think I was going to be able to go get it," Fleming said. "So the block, most definitely, I'm a defender first."
Vanderbilt’s game-changing run
The Commodores needed just 3:53 of game-time to turn a 54-48 deficit into a 63-54 advantage. Pippen had seven of his 29 points during Vandy’s 15-0 run to turn the tide. Sophomore guard Niels Lane, who finished the game with six points on 3-of-3 shooting from the field, would snap UF’s scoreless stretch with a baseline floater with 9:50 left in regulation.
It wasn't just in the second half, either. The 'Dores consistently converted field-goal attempts late in the shot clock, often in spite of a capable defensive game plan by the Gators. It would have been easy for Florida to get frustrated or discouraged, but UF never gave up.
Florida's ability to withstand a potent Vanderbilt offense led White to repeatedly describe the Gators as "resilient" in his postgame comments.
"I've never been a part of a game where the opposing team does that much damage offensively late-clock. I thought Vanderbilt was terrific and really deserved to win the game. 15 threes, the way they executed, my goodness, the way they paid us pay after defending for lengthy periods of time," White said, "But credit my guys, man, what a resilient group. What a tough group."
The Gators and Commodores combined for a whopping 25 three-pointers Tuesday night in Nashville, with Vanderbilt knocking down a season-high 15 shots from long-range in Florida’s two-point victory.
From the opening tip, it was clear both teams were feeling it, with 30 of the first 36 points coming from beyond the arc.
Seven different players, including five Gators, knocked down attempts from three-point land.
Prior to Tuesday, Vanderbilt hadn’t hit more than 13 three-pointers in an SEC contest this season.
"You always talk about trying to steal one on the road. We really stole this one," White said. "Again, I thought Vanderbilt was fantastic. I'm just proud of my guys' effort down the stretch, and their resilience, of course."