Vanderbilt had been searching for another signature win since beating Marquette way back in December. They got one in one of the most important games of the season.
Vandy sent their seniors off with a meaningful win as the Commodores outlasted a persistent Florida team, 77-67. The victory was Vanderbilt's biggest home win of the season, and it happened in what will go down as the final men's basketball game in the 60th year of operation at Memorial Gym. With the upset, the 'Dores earned a bye in the first round of next week's SEC Tournament.
The Commodores came out hot after honoring their graduating players. Vandy shot out to a 19-7 lead and looked energized by a capacity crowd at home. However, Billy Donovan and the Gators had an answer for Vanderbilt's hot offense, using a modified full-court press to force turnovers and score easy points in transition. Florida followed Kentucky's gameplan by scoring at will in the paint, and VU's early lead evaporated into a 52-51 Gator advantage 10 minutes into the second half.
Vanderbilt kept their wits about them with solid passing and lights-out shooting to regain the lead, but the Gators refused to go away. Florida's ability to pull down offensive rebounds and turn second chances into three-pointers sucked away any home team momentum until late in the game. It wasn't until Vandy went to a three-guard lineup with Brad Tinsley, Kedren Johnson, and John Jenkins that the 'Dores were able to effectively break the press and stop Florida's transition scoring.
Once that happened, Vandy's seniors took over. Jeffery Taylor got the ball to the rim and drew contact. Brad Tinsley pulled down huge rebounds on the defensive end to stop UF possessions and made his free throws count. Festus Ezeli and Lance Goulbourne shared the big man role in a small ball lineup and effectively shut down Florida's inside scoring in the stretch.
The end result? A great win and a revelation in the clutch. This team finally pulled out a close game where grit and determination were the deciding factors. These players channeled their emotion into their performances and posted their biggest SEC win of the season as a result. Not only was it key in keeping their shot at the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament alive, but it's a confidence building foundation for a team that has crumbled in the past.
It's only one game, but it's the kind of game that this team has found ways to lose in the past. Against Florida, Vanderbilt made adjustments and rode strong performances to a signature win. It was the Commodore team that fans have been waiting to see since we caught glimpses of them against Marquette and later against Kentucky. Now, the trick is sustaining that - and the first test will be against a nemesis Tennessee squad in Knoxville.