Damian Jones has no interest in leaving Vanderbilt without a trip to the NCAA Tournament. He proved that on Tuesday night with a career-high 27-point performance against Florida.
The Commodores defeated the Gators 87-74 for their first win in Gainesville since 2010. Florida had no answer for Jones, who spent so much time doing work in the paint that referees considered asking for his permit. He scored his 27 points on an uber-efficient 12-13 shooting performance from the floor. Jeff Roberson had a masterful performance of his own. The sophomore small forward had a double-double with 18 points (on just eight shots), 10 rebounds and three assists.
Jones willed the Commodores through a first half in which they never trailed - although the Gators made it close towards the end. Vandy led by as many as 10 points as their junior center exploded for 16 points (on only eight shots), five rebounds, and a block. However, the Gators took advantage of Vanderbilt's foul trouble to mount a late comeback, and looked ready to tie the game up at halftime before, well, this happened:
That's 6'5 shooting guard Matthew Fisher-Davis blocking a dunk. And 7'0 center Josh Henderson chest-passing a basketball 85 feet to the other hoop. Vanderbilt took a 40-35 lead into the half.
The Commodores kept that momentum moving forward to start the second half. Vanderbilt extended its lead to 10 points behind the bullying interior play of Jones, but Florida's opportunistic shooting - and a rising wave of whistles from the officials - kept the home team alive. With Jones and Kornet forced out of action with four fouls apiece, the Gators pulled to within 69-67 before the two teams engaged in a tension filled two-minute scoring drought that kept the lid on an O-Dome crowd waiting for any excuse to explode.
Wade Baldwin shot his way out of a midgame slump with a pull-up three-pointer. Two possessions later, Fisher-Davis drained a 25-foot three-pointer after a missed Baldwin free throw to push the VU lead to 76-67 and cut some breathing room for the Commodores. Florida battled on both ends of the court, but ultimately couldn't match Vandy's shooting in a game where the 87-74 final score failed to reflect how close the game was.
The victory could wind up being crucial to Vandy's NCAA Tournament hopes. The team's win over Florida was its first quality road win of the season.
Vanderbilt improved to 17-11 and 9-6 in SEC play. The Gators fell to 17-11 and 8-7. The Commodores will return to Memorial Gym on Saturday when they host No. 16 Kentucky.