Sloppy play and a lack of bulk around the rim cost Vanderbilt a chance to knock #1 Florida from its perch atop the NCAA on Tuesday night.
Dorian Finney-Smith had 19 points for the Gators as Florida notched their 20th straight victory with a 57-54 win. The Commodores made a run late in the second half to give UF a scare, but ultimately lacked the firepower to overtake a top-ranked Gator team.
A glut of offensive rebounds and Commodore turnovers led to a big shot disparity that the undermanned Commodores couldn't overcome. Florida pulled down 13 offensive boards and forced 16 turnovers to stymie most of the opportunities Vanderbilt had to keep this game close late in the second half. Despite these problems, the 'Dores still found a way to create an opportunity to win late.
Florida opened up a double-digit lead midway through the second half, stretching their advantage to as many as 12 points with 13:30 to play. The 'Dores punched back behind a 8-0 run that got a lethargic crowd back into the game as the game wore on. Vandy pulled within three when Dai-Jon Parker hit one of three free throws just inside the eight minute mark, but Florida pulled back out to an eight-point lead when the 'Dores failed to close out their own possessions or prevent the Gators from getting second chances.
Vanderbilt didn't roll over, though. Damian Jones stopped the UF run with a big two, and one play later Kyle Fuller drove head first into a 4-on-1 situation, hit a circus layup, and drew the foul to make this a one possession game. Two minutes later, his two clutch free throws made this a 54-52 game with under a minute to go. Unfortunately for the 'Dores, Scottie Wilbekin found a wide open Finney-Smith for a dagger three that made things difficult for Vandy.
VU got two back when Fuller drove for a nifty right handed layup, then caught a break when Wilbekin missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to give the Commodores one last chance to tie the game at the end of regulation. However, Kyle Fuller's last-second three pointer was off the mark, and the team wouldn't get another good look from three after that as they fell 57-54.
The 'Dores had home court advantage, but the black and gold faithful left approximately 3,000 seats empty for Vandy's biggest game of the season. Though the crowd perked up when Vanderbilt cut into Florida's lead late, the atmosphere was tame compared to how Memorial Gym rocked the last time Vandy faced a #1 Gator team.
The loss dropped Vanderbilt to 15-12 overall and 7-8 in the SEC. Florida improved to 26-2 and 15-0 in the victory. Vandy will be back in action on Saturday when they travel to Knoxville to face arch rival Tennessee.