It wasn't pretty, but it was a win. In the end, that's what Vanderbilt's NCAA Tournament desperately needed.
The Commodores struck out to a 14-point lead and then held on through a tense final two minutes to defend their home court and defeat Florida 60-59 on Tuesday night. Damian Jones had another spirited outing, scoring 20 points and pulling down 12 rebounds while committing only two fouls in 35 minutes of action. Jones was ferocious in the paint, clearing out the glass for Vanderbilt rebounds and creating the space his teammates needed to drive to the hoop in a terrific all-around performance.
Vanderbilt got out to an early lead in what turned out to be an ugly game. The 'Dores struck out to a 30-19 lead after 20 minutes of basketball that saw Florida shoot 0-10 from three-point range. Only Vandy's sloppiness kept them alive, as missed shots around the rim and turnovers (19 in all) gave the Gators the latitude they needed to stay in this game.
Florida trailed 42-28 with 14 minutes to play, but a 12-2 run cut that lead to four points and triggered painful memories of Commodore blown leads of the past. This time, however, the Vandy defense was there to bail the team out. The 'Dores held UF to more than five minutes without a field goal, turning a 1-8 shooting stretch into an eight-point lead as the Gators struggled to find an answer for the home team's dynamic defense. Florida made five of their final five three-point attempts to turn this into a one-point loss, but Wade Baldwin and Luke Kornet stayed composed down the stretch and made their free throws to avoid a Wake Forest-ian come-from-ahead loss on their home court.
Baldwin led all scorers with 24 points. Kornet only scored four, but still made a big impact with nine rebounds and six blocked shots. The Commodores won despite zero points from their bench on Tuesday night.
Vanderbilt improved to 12-8 on the season and 4-4 in SEC play with the victory. Florida fell to 13-7 and 5-3. The Commodores will return to the court when they travel to Austin to face Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday afternoon.