The No. 1 Florida Gators did something they hadn’t done since February 1st Tuesday night against the Vanderbilt Commodores: They led at the half for the first time in six games. Florida (26-2, 15-0 SEC) beat Vanderbilt (15-12, 7-8 SEC) 57-54 to clinch at least a share of the SEC regular season title. Vandy had a chance to tie the game with 6.6 seconds left, but a three and a consequent put back were unsuccessful. Dorian Finney-Smith led all scorers with 19 points and 9 rebounds off the bench. Patric Young added 12 points and 7 rebounds, 6 of which were offensive.
The Gators played better in the first half then they have played the past two games. They led 32-25 at the break, led mostly by Young, who was just too big and too strong for the Commodores, and their smothering defense. Florida forced 11 turnovers at the break, six of which were caused by the full court press.
In the second half, things got tighter, however. Vanderbilt started to force Florida to take bad shots and started making shots of their own to cut the lead down to two under eight minutes. But the Gators always had an answer, with Finney-Smith hitting a 3 with 30.6 seconds left to put the game at 57-52. Kyle Fuller hit a couple of free throws to get the game to one possession, but Scottie Wilbekin did a great job of dodging ‘Dores to wipe an extra three seconds off the clock. Wilbekin missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 10 seconds left to give Vandy hope. But their 3-point attempt and tip back were unsuccessful and Florida got out of Memorial Gymnasium with a win.
Finney-Smith and Young were the only Gators in double figures. Wilbekin had 7 points and 5 assists, while Michael Frazier II hit two big treys en-route to 9 points and 6 rebounds. Casey Prather had a tough night offensively, scoring only 2 points, but made up for it with his defense. Prather had 4 steals, 6 boards, 3 dimes, and 1 block. Rod Odom and Dai-Jon Parker were the only ‘Dores in double digits, scoring 12 and 11 respectively.
Florida shot 40.4% (21-52), 36.4% (8-22) from beyond the arc, and 58.3% (7-12) from the charity stripe. Vanderbilt outshot the Gators at 48.8% (20-41), 44.4% (8-18) from three, and 54.5% (6-11) from the free throw line. The Gators outrebounded the Commodores 32-26, including 13 offensive rebounds. UF also had 8 steals to VU’s 6.
Florida continued their ridiculous streaks and added another school record on the way. The Gators won their 20th straight game, 8th consecutive on the road in SEC play, and 15 straight conference wins. Their 15-0 SEC mark is the highest win total in league play in school history.
The top-ranked Gators will look to continue their winning ways Saturday, March 1 against the tough LSU Tigers. Tip-off is set for 4 pm.