The Florida Gators avoided losing five-straight games for the first time since 1997-98 by pulling out a hard-fought 50-47 victory against the Vanderbilt Commodores on Wednesday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.
Florida (13-13, 6-7 SEC) played the game short-handed yet still managed to get revenge on Vanderbilt (14-12, 4-9 SEC), which upset the Gators on the road two weeks ago.
OnlyGators.com breaks down Wednesday’s action with 10 quick-hitters:
It was over when: Vanderbilt forward James Siakam pieced together a personal 5-0 run – including a spin move dunk and old-school three-point play – to put the visitors on top 45-44 with 1:24 to play. The teams traded buckets, and Florida sophomore point guard Kasey Hill had an opportunity at the line to give his team back the lead but missed both free throws. Following a missed VU attempt from the charity stripe, UF got consecutive offensive possessions after a missed three from freshman forward Devin Robinson was deflected out of bounds. That is when Hill drove into the lane only to find Robinson for a go-ahead dunk. Two free throws from freshman PG Chris Chiozza iced the victory for the home team.
“I was proud. I could see Kasey fighting it. I could just see his body language was not good after the two free throws. I watched him, and I think he tried to gather and regroup himself. And I’m glad he did that; he kept himself in the game,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought our guys competed and battled. It’s just that, you know, offensively it is an absolute struggle – a struggle.”
Significant stretch: Struggling to score and trailing by six, the Gators suddenly retook the lead against the Commodores thanks to an 13-0 run that included a five-point trip. Redshirt junior guard Eli Carter made a basket, missed the and-one opportunity, grabbed the rebound and registered an assist as junior F Alex Murphy drained a three. UF led by a game-high seven points with six minutes to play as VU went scoreless for 6:14 and without a field goal for 8:31.
Prominent players: Robinson and Murphy each stepped up to fill the scoring void for Florida. Though he only made one basket in the first half, Robinson scored 10 of UF’s final 18 points, going 5-for-10 for with 12 points and a team-high-tying six boards. Murphy matched a career-high with 11 points and drained a pair of triples after only making one prior this season.
“I challenged him,” Donovan said of Robinson. “Devin needs to grow in that area as a player, becoming a consistent guy and consistently you know what you’re getting out of him. … I thought he was more engaged and more competitive, and I really challenged him at halftime.”
Robinson added: “He was just teaching me a lesson.”
First half focus: Despite starting 2-for-8 from the field, Florida took advantage of three Vanderbilt turnovers to piece together an extended 17-5 scoring stretch and take a 19-12 lead. The Commodores got their lead right back, extending it to 25-19 with a 13-0 run as the Gators went scoreless for the final 8:37 of the first half, finishing 0-for-10 from the field and 0-for-2 from the line with three turnovers during that stretch. Riley LaChance hit a buzzer-beating three to send the visitors to the locker rooms up six points.
“The last eight minutes, not being able to score, was deflating to them. It was really deflating,” Donovan said. “They’ve got to get to a point and a place that they understand, because of their offensive struggles, it can’t get int he way of them not competing. You can still do things to compete in the game to put yourself in a position to win.”
Perfect play: See “It was over when.”
Standout stats: The Gators won despite going 7-for-25 from the field in the first half and 10-for-20 from the charity stripe in 40 minutes. Florida outrebounded Vanderbilt 41-31, had 15 points off 12 VU turnovers and scored more than half (26) of its points in the paint.
“Even when we’re getting fairly decent looks, we’re not making shots,” Donovan said. “I always feel like the free throw line, in a lot of respects, sometimes is a reflection of your team’s shooting. … We go 50 percent from the free throw line; we work on it, we try to get these guys extra shots. I think the one thing that’s a challenge for us, besides the scoring piece of it, is sometimes our basketball IQ in terms of reading defense is not great.”
Important injury: After registering four blocks in the first half and adding a career-high fifth after the break, sophomore center Chris Walker went to the locker room after jamming his hand on the rim while attempting another block. He returned to the bench and reentered the game, finishing with two points and four rebounds.
What it means: UF ended a four-game losing streak and avoided dropping five-in-a-row for the first time since 1997-98. The Gators also ensured that the Commodores would not sweep them in a season for the first time since 2009-10.
Next up: Florida will not get a break as it tries to end its losing skid, travelling to LSU on Saturday for a 1 p.m. showdown in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Everything else: Redshirt junior F Dorian Finney-Smith missed the game while serving an indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules … Carter did not score until the 12:44 mark of the second half … the Gators played in the bonus for the final 9:34 of the contest … Chiozza registered a career- and team-high six rebounds … senior C Jon Horford matched Robinson and Chiozza with six boards