Vanderbilt Basketball suffers 71-55 home loss to Florida Gators

Vanderbilt Plays Auburn in Men's Basketball on Saturday, February 16, 2019. (Photo by Hunter Long)

Vanderbilt Plays Auburn in Men's Basketball on Saturday, February 16, 2019. (Photo by Hunter Long)

Alyssa Muir

Even a Game of Thrones themed night in Memorial Gymnasium could not help Vanderbilt break through and get their first SEC win as the Florida Gators easily defeated the Commodores 71-55, breaking Vanderbilt’s four-game home winning streak against Florida.

The Commodores looked outmatched from the start as they trailed 20-8 after the first eight minutes of the game. The biggest reason was the complete lack of resistance on the defensive end; Vanderbilt let a Florida team that ranks second-to-last in the SEC in points per game shoot over 63 percent from the field in those first minutes. The offense was not much better as the team quickly turned it over four times. Vanderbilt would never get closer than within eight points of the Gators for the rest of the game.

It seemed like the game was headed towards an early blowout victory for Florida but, as they have done all season, the Commodores refused to go away quietly. They picked it up offensively, shooting above 45 percent, but still could not contain Florida’s Andrew Nembhard and Jalen Hudson, who finished the half with twelve points apiece. The Gators led 41-29 at halftime.

The second half started the way the first one did: after not even two minutes of play, the Commodores turned the ball over twice and the Gators extended their lead to almost 20. To make matters worse for Vanderbilt, Matt Ryan left a few seconds into the half after suffering what appeared to be a finger injury. He did not return until the six minute mark.

And just as they did in the first half, the Commodores responded with a 9-2 run of their own, reigniting the crowd and forcing Florida coach Mike White to call a timeout.

Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, however, they could not sustain their run as Nembhard, Florida’s point guard, continued to carve up the Commodore defense. The freshman finished with nineteen points and only missed one shot all night.The Gators ultimately cruised to a 71-55 victory.

“I think the problem with that run was we were just too far behind,” said Vanderbilt Head Coach Bryce Drew. “If we had been down 14 or 15 and we went on that run, now it’s like a four point game. It’s a lot different and we can withstand a couple baskets from them.”

One of the few bright spots for Vanderbilt was the play of point guard Saben Lee, who finished with fifteen points and five assists, fone of his more complete games of the season. On the other side, his backcourt partner Aaron Nesmith, who scored 26 points in the first meeting between these two teams, was held to just six points on two-for-ten shooting and turned the ball over four times.

“Aaron’s been sensational during this stretch and if you go back and look at the games he hasn’t been sensational, we’ve really struggled,” said Drew. “With the scoring punch that this particular roster has right now, he has to score the ball for us to be in the game. This is all great experience for him that is going to make him better in the future.”

As he normally does, Drew remained positive after the game. He pointed towards the improved play of Lee and Matthew Moyer as well as the experience that this young team continues to get during SEC play that should serve them well next season. 

“I will tell them [the Vanderbilt fans] that brighter days are ahead,” said Drew. “We are going to get them out of their seats cheering for a good reason in the near future.”

With this loss, Vanderbilt falls to 9-19 on the season and 0-15 in the SEC. It is looking more and more realistic that this team, with all its high expectations entering the season, will be the first team in SEC history to go 0-18 in conference play.

The Commodores get their next shot to break their winless streak on Saturday, March 2 when they play at Texas A&M.

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