The top ranked Florida Gator men’s basketball team extended its record winning streak to an even 20 games on Tuesday night defeating the Vanderbilt Commodores 57-54. Despite coming into Tuesday’s matchup with a 16-44 overall record inside the Memorial gym, the Gators overcame their previous issues in Nashville for yet another single digit victory.
For the Gators to get their 20th straight it took yet another great defensive performance, much like what Florida has shown most of the season. The Gators lead the SEC in scoring defense holding opponents to just 58 points per game, and they beat that number yet again on Tuesday.
The Commodores shot 48 percent which was considerably better than the 40 percent that the Gators shot. However, Gator coach Billy Donovan gave his team a very stout defensive game-plan and it worked well against a young Commodore lineup. The press was very useful against Vanderbilt early on and there were multiple cases where the Commodores were unable to get the ball to mid-court.
The Commodores finished Tuesday night with 16 turnovers compared to just 11 assists, and a negative ratio rarely spells good things for any team. Despite giving up a fairly high shooting percentage the Gators did well to beat Vandy in many other areas of interest.
The Gators were able to capitalize on an undersized Vanderbilt lineup, out rebounding them 32-26, and the 13 offensive rebounds for the Gators led to 13 second chance points compared to the Commodores four offensive rebounds that led to just one second chance point. After the game Donovan talked about his team’s ability to win the battle of the boards.
“We got in there, Patric chased basketballs on the backboard, he had six offensive rebounds, and Dorian Finney-Smith got to the glass. We did a really good job on the backboard keeping possessions alive.”
Looking at the offense, only one Gator truly shined on Tuesday night, and he might not be the first name you would expect. Dorian Finney-Smith came into Tuesday’s game having shot just 1 of his last 25 in his last eight games form beyond the arc. In his slump overall, Doe-Doe was shooting just 36 percent from the field, but Tuesday he was the difference maker in the Gators first game at number one.
Doe-Doe shot 6 of 11 from the field and 3 of 6 from beyond the arc that led to a total of 19 points on the night. The redshirt sophomore also snagged nine rebounds and was a force the Commodores just could not reckon with. That brings up yet another important stat in favor of the Gators, and that’s bench points. The Gator bench outscored Vanderbilt’s 25-11, and with the starter’s a little rusty coming off a big game at Ole Miss, it was key for others to step up.
Another guy who has really been shooting well for the Gators is sophomore DeVon Walker who quietly netted a solid six points Tuesday night hitting on both of his three point field goals. In order for the Gators to continue their hot streak, depth will be very important and when healthy, and the Gators have guys such as Walker, Doe-Doe and freshman Kasey Hill coming off the bench, this team could go a long way in March.
The one problem for the Gators on Tuesday night was the let down in the second half. That comes as a surprise for a team that has been seemingly known for wearing down opponents and playing a better second half than first. However, that was not the case against the Commodores. The Gators went into the half with a 32-25 point lead and it seemed as though they would only build off that momentum into the second half.
The Gators were outscored in the second half by the Commodores by a score of 29-25 and Florida went cold offensively midway through the second only scoring 12 points in the final 13 and a half minutes of the game. The only other Gator to score in double figures was senior center Patric Young who finished with 12, but 10 of those points came in the first half. A huge 3 pointer by Finney-Smith late put the Gators up five and they held off the pesky Commodores at the end.
The Commodores were led by senior forward Rod Odom who scored 12 points, two shy of his season average. Odom and junior Dai-Jon Parker who scored 11 were the only players for head coach Kevin Stallings to reach double digits. With their strong push in the second half, Vanderbilt was given one final chance with six seconds remaining to put up a shot to tie, but it just wouldn’t fall. Although they came up short, Patric Young talked about the challenge the Commodores posed to his team.
“They knocked down a lot of open threes, they are a very well coached team and we were very lucky to pull this one out,” Young said.
The Gators moved to 26-2 on the season and to an undefeated 15-0 in the conference. With their win Tuesday night the Gators earned at least a share of the SEC title for the second year in a row.
The Gators will now get a much needed rest before returning to the court again Saturday at home against the LSU Tigers.
For more post-game comments from Donovan and senior Patric Young click on the links below:
Donovan talks about his team’s defense
Donovan talks about Scottie Wilbekin
Donovan talks about his team’s tough stretch of games
Young talks about the tough stretch their going through and Tuesday’s game