Advancing to the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship for the first time since 2007, the No. 12 Florida Gators (26-6) outscored the No. 24 Vanderbilt Commodores (23-10) by 19 points in the second half to come out of the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA with a 77-66 victory in the semifinals.
Florida sophomore guard Kenny Boynton and junior point guard Erving Walker combined to outscore Vanderbilt 33-30 in the second half to help the Gators match a season-best mark by coming back from a 12-point deficit.
The Commodores were fast out of the gate, starting the game with an 11-2 run as the Gators shot 1-for-7 from the field. Florida answered back with a 13-3 run to tie the game at 18, but a subsequent 10-1 stretch by Vanderbilt put them back ahead nine points.
UF suffered a 7:15 drought without a field goal in the middle of the first half and turned the ball over 11 times (resulting in 18 points) in the period. VU went into the half with a 36-28 advantage, forcing Florida to attempt to come from behind once again.
The Commodores started the second half by scoring four-straight points to take a game-high 12-point lead; however, the Gators responded immediately with a 15-4 run to take their first lead of the game, 51-50. Walker exploded for nine-straight points during the run, giving his team a much-needed spark.
Florida kept their foot on the pedal from there. Tied at 57, the Gators utilized a 17-6 run (including nine consecutive points from Boynton) to put them up a game-high 11 with 1:09 remaining in the contest. Vanderbilt fouled the rest of the way, sending Florida to their eighth appearance in a SEC Tournament Championship game.
Boynton’s hot shooting continued for the Gators; he hit 8-of-16 shots and 5-of-9 attempts from downtown to score 24 points including 16 in the second half. Walker was 0-for-2 in the first half but countered that with a 6-for-12 second half (3-for-6 from beyond the arc) for all 17 of his points.
Senior forward Chandler Parsons once again filled in the cracks with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting (2-of-4 from three) to go along with a team-high nine rebounds. Florida’s young bench supported the effort, combining for 13 points with freshman center Patric Young grabbing eight boards in 20 minutes of action.
Vanderbilt F Jeffery Taylor was consistent all game for the Commodores, scoring a team-high 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting; however, Taylor was only 1-for-5 from downtown and committed three fouls. Center Festus Ezeli caused UF’s frontcourt all sorts of problems; he finished with 17 points and nine rebounds (five offensive). Facing immense defensive pressure, VU star G John Jenkins only hit 3-of-15 field goals (2-of-12 three-pointers) and struggled to score 10 points on the afternoon.
Not only did the Gators shoot better than the Commodores (48.3 percent vs. 36.5 percent), UF also out-rebounded them 38-30 and only turned the ball over once in the second half after coughing it up 11 times in the first.
Florida has now defeated both Tennessee and Vanderbilt three times each in the same season. It is the first time UF has swept either program thrice in one year and also the first time the Gators have beat any two opponents three-straight times in a season.
With the win, Florida advances to face No. 16 Kentucky for the SEC Tournament Championship on Sunday. UK will be the third-straight SEC East opponent UF will face in the event. The game airs live at 1 p.m. on ABC.
Photo Credit: Dave Martin/Associated Press