The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

Commodores mount comeback to top Florida, keep NCAA hopes alive


Vanderbilt pulled out a close 73-71 win over No. 12 Florida Saturday afternoon in Memorial Gym in front of a packed crowd.

Vanderbilt honored its two seniors, Luke Kornet and Nolan Cressler, by presenting them with framed jerseys with their families present, as well as honoring senior manager Zach Hamer. Kornet led the team with 24 points while Cressler added 13 more.

Moreover, Kornet had two blocks for 203 career blocks, only trailing Festus Ezeli by one on the all-time list for blocks in school history. Kornet earned praise from Florida head coach Mike White, who referred to him as, “in my opinion, the best defender in the league.”

The two seniors not only led the team on the court with their production, but they were also the emotional leaders for an intense regular season finale.

After a made jumper from Florida’s Kasey Hill, Vanderbilt opened the game with a 9-0 run, led by two drives and lay-ins by Cressler, as well as a three by Kornet, forcing a Florida timeout. The Gators came back and made a couple of shots out of the timeout to head into the under-16 media timeout. All of Florida’s makes to start the game came inside the three-point line, most of them being mid-range jumpers.

Vanderbilt kept at it with a stuff by Kornet off a feed from Cressler for the senior connection, as they both played their last games at Memorial Gym.  

The Commodores forced three turnovers in the first three minutes. Their improved play at that end of the floor was a key factor in their late-season surge, including four consecutive wins before losing to Kentucky, to force themselves into NCAA tournament conversation.

Riley LaChance went to the basket with a spin move for the hoop and the harm, completing a three-point play from the charity stripe. The game was still tight going under the 10-minute mark, with the Gators leading by a point. But after missing their first four shots from beyond the arc, KeVaughn Allen made consecutive threes to extend the lead to seven points going into the under eight media timeout.

Jeff Roberson responded with a three of his own coming out of the timeout. Moments later, LaChance picked up his third foul with five minutes still to play in the first half.

Anyone who follows the ‘Dores knows that they live and die by the three, and this game was no different. Vanderbilt continued to hoist up shots from downtown — more than half of their attempted field goals came from beyond the arc, with little success. As compared to their 38 percent three-point shooting for the season, which leads the SEC, the Commodores only shot 21 percent from downtown in the first half.

Freshman guard Payton Willis had a good block to lead to a drive and layup for himself at the other end with under two minutes to go in the period. However, the Gators commanded the final possession of the half to go into the locker room with a nine-point lead, 40-31.

Vanderbilt switched emphasis, going inside to start the second period, and found some success through two made shots by Cressler, before a Joe Toye three, for a 7-2 opening to bring the game to within four and force a Florida timeout. The Commodores will have to continue to show they have other weapons when teams take away the three-point shot if they are to make a run in next week’s SEC tournament.

“Things did not look very good at about the 12-minute mark,” Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew said. “Somehow, in the next seven to 10 minutes we were able to manufacture points. It wasn’t pretty.”

Both teams dived to the floor for 50-50 balls, and one such hustle play led to a Roberson assault on the rim to get the crowd off their feet before a Canyon Barry layup going into a media timeout.

A Justin Leon three-pointer with just over twelve minutes left gave Florida the game’s first double digit lead, which had grown to 12 points going into the second media timeout of the half.

A six-point surge by Kornet, which included four free throw makes, cut the lead to five points, but the Gators’ Barry responded with four of his own to bring the lead back up to nine.

Another Kornet block was followed by a Cressler and-one, but a Barry three-pointer deflated a jubilant crowd at Memorial Gym. Kornet responded with an emphatic dunk at the other end, before a Cressler steal.

Following a missed dunk by Toye, a LaChance three made it a two-point game with under five minutes to go as the Gators called time, with Cressler signaling for the crowd to amp the volume for that Memorial Magic.

“The fans really gave us good energy,” said Cressler of a rocking Memorial Gym.

“They really got us over the hump,” Drew added.

After a couple of makes from the charity stripe by LaChance, the game was tied at 63 going into the final media timeout of the game.

As opposed to earlier in the season, Vanderbilt tightened up its defense in the final two minutes. LaChance continued his second-half explosion, scoring 11 of his 13 in the second period. After forcing a couple of misses from the Gators, a series of Kornet free throws closed out the tense final seconds as the Commodores notched up a huge win at home.  

“We’re definitely playing our best basketball right now, which is when you want to be playing your best,” said Drew.

The No. 12-ranked Florida Gators come into this game having locked up the No. 2 seed for next week’s SEC tournament in Nashville. For the Commodores, this game represented an opportunity to rack up another impressive win over a nationally ranked opponent, of which they already have two including a win against the Gators in Gainesville, to boost their NCAA resume.

They delivered big and must have the selection committee on notice after that result.

“We’re just hoping we make [ESPN bracketologist] Joe [Lunardi] proud,” Cressler said.

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Elias Ukule, Former Author

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