The Vanderbilt Commodores entered Saturday’s matchup against the Florida Gators having won their past four at home. Both players and fans were hoping to make it five.
With a raucous crowd behind them, Vanderbilt got the job done with a 71-68 victory.
Romeo Langford, a top prospect for next year’s class, was in attendance at Memorial Gym. Langford is currently ranked 5th on the ESPN Top 100 (#1 SG). He is the highest-ranked player in the class of 2018 that hasn’t announced his commitment and is deciding between Vanderbilt, Kansas, and Indiana.
One of the stories of today’s game were the fans, as the excitement may have reached an all-time high in Memorial this season. Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew addressed the attendance of over 10,000 fans after the game.
“Our crowd is spectacular,” he said. They’re very knowledgable. They know when to cheer and when not to cheer, and when our team needs it. Our players play with much more energy”
Jeff Roberson, who scored a team-high 26 points in this contest, credited the fans when asked if he believes in “Memorial Magic”.
“When the fans get that into it, of course,” he said.
The excitement of the fans had a direct impact on the players, and perhaps even on the outcome of the game.
The noise, however, was occasionally directed at the men in stripes rather than the men in gold.
The nearly-full student section expressed their concerns with the officiating. Each questionable call was met with jeers from the student section.
Driven by the intensity of a crowded Memorial Gymnasium, Vanderbilt got off to a solid early start. In the first half, the Commodores’ efficient shooting (50% from the field) helped them keep it close, despite a few mishaps.
Florida scored 16 points in the paint by halftime, as Clevon Brown and Jeff Roberson struggled to match up with the Gators’ front court. Low-post defense was an issue for the Commodores, as made evident by Keith Stone’s prowess in the paint.
Stone, Florida’s power-forward, effortlessly dropped 15 points in the first half. Ejike Obinna saw more success protecting the paint, but with two early fouls, his minutes were limited.
Vanderbilt also struggled to get going on offense end with nine turnovers in the first half. Those turnovers turned into 10 points off turnovers for Florida, while Vanderbilt only registered two.
The offense seemed rather stagnant and was limited to just 18 shots in the first half. While they didn’t shoot much, they did manage to make half the shots they took.
Roberson led the rebounding charge as per usual, as the Commodores actually managed to win the rebound battle on the defensive end. However, they were not so sound on the offensive boards. Florida’s 12 offensive rebounds led to 15 second chance points, compared to Vanderbilt’s five for nine.
Once again, this game was a tale of two halves.
Florida head coach Mike White noted his team’s tendency to play one-half basketball and their failure to push until the final whistle.
“The only consistent thing on our team is inconsistency,” he said.
The second half contained numerous lead changes and was a back-and-forth game on both sides of the floor.
When it counted most, the Commodores were able to secure defensive rebounds, sink their free throws and prevent the Gators offense from making easy layups.
Thanks to the help of Joe Toye’s two free throws with just 12 seconds remaining, Vanderbilt secured the game.
It was in doubt for a moment, as Saben Lee was flagged for reaching, giving Florida the opportunity to call a full timeout and keep their possession alive in the dying seconds. On the ensuing play, Florida had not one, but two chances to tie the game at the buzzer, but couldn’t convert.
Vanderbilt earned this upset win, refusing to back down to the Gators.
Next up for the Commodores is a road game at LSU on Tuesday night.