Well, that was almost awful. After a strong start, Vanderbilt decided to see if they could win a game without rebounding for 20 straight minutes. Late in the second half, Florida held a 28-14 advantage on the glass and was beating the 'Dores with offensive rebounds and second chances. The Gators picked apart Vandy's zone defense and frustrated the team on the other end on their way to turning an 11 point deficit into a four point lead. Fortunately, John Jenkins decided that he had had enough of the O'Dome crowd and decided to shoot the team to victory.
Vanderbilt came away with a 64-60 victory thanks to the freshman's heroics, as the team's offense sputtered in the second half. A.J. Ogilvy was smothered in the paint and failed to draw the fouls that has defined his offense in SEC play, and Jeffery Taylor couldn't find his range from the floor or driving to the basket and was held to just four points. However, Jenkins stepped up to score all nine points (three 3-pointers) of a 9-4 run that put the Commodores in the lead and on their way to victory. It was a major display of stones from the freshman, who stepped into his title as Vanderbilt's most hyped recruit of all time and ran with it tonight.
Some quick observations on the 'Dores victory tonight:
- What the hell happened to the box out? Vanderbilt stuck with Kentucky - a team with superior big men - by crashing the boards and denying the Wildcats second chances. Tonight, the 'Dores should have had the frontcourt edge, but seemingly for 20 straight minutes every Florida miss was cleaned up by an untouched Gator player and converted into points. Florida held a 16-6 offensive rebounding edge on the night, and to the uninformed observer it seemed even more lopsided than that. The Gators would put up shots, and rather than crash inside, Vandy's defenders would stay frozen, allowing Florida the second chances that nearly doomed the team.
- Another game, another slop-fest. This one wasn't pretty. Both teams pushed the pace, and when it went well, it led to quick barrages of baskets in every trip down the court. Unfortunately, it rarely went well. Vandy's three point shooting was the only aspect that kept the team's field goal percentage above 40%, as trips into the paint often ended in frustration against Florida's defense. Conversely, the Gators shot just 36.5% and bricked threes all night - most notably Kenny Boynton's wide open attempt with 10 seconds left.
John Jenkins is suffering no ill effects from John Wall's monster block. Jenkins's growth continued this season, as he showed a poise generally reserved for Jermaine Beal in shooting the team back into the game. Clearly his mid-season hospital visit was related to complications due to having such huevos grandes.
- Without Jenkins and Lance Goulbourne, the bench might be in trouble. Tonight's production came almost exclusively from the Beal/Jenkins/Ogilvy/Walker combination. Brad Tinsley looked decent in spurts initiating the offense from the PG spot, but couldn't buy a basket. Steve Tchiengang had a nice game, but rode the refs and paid for it as they made sure to call everything high and tight on the young Cameroonian. Despite the issues, a bench guy came up with the biggest rebound of the night when Tchiengang collected Kenny Boynton's miss with 10 seconds left.
This is a different Vanderbilt team than we're used to. Three games, six days, three wins - including two in arenas where Kevin Stallings had seen exactly one victory celebration during his tenure in Nashville. This team had several opportunities to roll over and die, but they fought back to win ugly games that they might have lost with a different makeup. There's a unique storm of talent and intensity brewing at Memorial Gym, and these guys might just be the best team Vanderbilt has fielded in several years.
Despite some ugliness, the Commodores will leave the O'Dome with a victory, and hopefully a little bit more respect from the NCAA Tournament seeding committee. Vandy didn't look great, but they'll leave Gainesville with a win on the road, against a Top 50 team, on their Senior Night, in a game that they needed to win to punch their NCAA Tournament ticket. Sorry Dan Werner, but the Commodores were able to pull it out tonight despite a spate of problems. We'll see you at the SEC Tournament.