Vanderbilt beat the second-seeded Florida Gators 72-62 in overtime to add to its regular-season sweep of the Gators and advance to the Saturday afternoon’s semifinals of the SEC tournament. Here are some thoughts from the win.
Impressive three-point shooting
In their regular-season finale just up the road at Memorial Gym six days ago, the Commodores pulled out a two-point win against a Florida team that held them to 5-for-22 shooting beyond the three-point line. There was no such struggle from downtown in their SEC tournament quarterfinal matchup, as Vanderbilt went 11-of-27 to shoot at a 41 percent clip.
Even though Florida won the matchup in the paint, outscoring Vanderbilt 28-20 inside, and cleaned the offensive glass for 12 second chance points to Vanderbilt’s four, the Commodores hit key three-pointers to pull away every time the Gators got close. Riley LaChance hit 4-of-7 from beyond the arc, including a bomb in overtime to put the game beyond reach, while Mathew Fisher-Davis came off the bench to contribute three key treys, two in the second half.
“I thought Matthew Fisher-Davis hit a couple back breakers on us,” Florida head coach Mike White said.
Kornet dominates inside
Seven-foot-one senior Luke Kornet is mostly known for his defense, and rightly so. He was named into the SEC All-Defensive team and only trails Festus Ezeli for the all-time mark for blocks in school history. But the towering senior has had his way against the Gators this season on the offensive end, especially since they lost center John Egbunu to an ACL tear.
This has forced White to play smaller players Devin Robinson and Kevarrius Hayes, both under 6’10”, on Kornet. As a result, he has had his way with offense inside with his back to the basket, going for 24 points in the regular-season finale and recording a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds tonight. Some smaller guards were caught guarding Kornet at times due to the switches on ball screens, which he took full advantage of, neutralizing the effective small-ball that Florida has played for stretches during the game.
“He is something else defensively and obviously offensively as well when your entire scouting report resolves around how to defend a 7’1” guy that shoots it like a 2-guard,” White said.
We all remember the days when we bit our fingernails when Vanderbilt got into a close-game situation late with the game on the line. Since its turnaround mid-season, especially during the current run of seven wins in eight games, it has improved significantly in this regard. You can now be confident that the defensive ability of Joe Toye on the perimeter and Kornet’s presence inside will put off any attempts to steal the game at the last minute.
This was definitely the case Friday as the Commodores survived a late-game surge by the Gators to force overtime. Perhaps the most telling play happened with 9.7 seconds left in regulation. Head coach Bryce Drew called timeout after Jeff Roberson made one of his two free throws to tie the game at 58. The Gators had the ball and drew up a play for a Kasey Hill drive, but Kornet contested the shot for a miss and Toye blocked the follow by Hayes to force overtime. Drew described the performance as “a great 40 minutes of resilience.”
“Those possessions like we’ve been able to kind of close it out towards the end the game recently have been huge for us to get stops, and everyone is fighting as hard as they can,” Kornet said.
Dores get it done in overtime
There is no doubt about it. The Commodores won this game in overtime. After being outscored by Florida 30-25 in the second period, Vanderbilt came out in overtime with purpose. A pull-up jumper by LaChance was followed by a Nolan Cressler corner three to pull away for a five-point lead. LaChance followed it up with another three-pointer before Roberson put the nail in the coffin with his authoritative slam. Vanderbilt outscored the Gators by 10 in overtime, making all of their shots while limiting Florida to only four points, a three and a free throw by Hill.
Vanderbilt likely “In”
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has Vanderbilt safely in the NCAA bracket. If the Commodores did not have an adequate resume with their elite strength of schedule and quality wins over tough opponents coming into this game, beating the No. 2 seed in the tournament play should make up the committee’s mind. Moreover, after the momentum they have built up after this win, they should be favorites to win the semifinal tomorrow against Arkansas and make a run to the final for a possible matchup against Kentucky on Sunday. Then, well, you never know. Third time’s the charm.