If the Florida Gators don’t hear their name called on Selection Sunday when the NCAA announces the field for the 2010 tournament, they can look back to the last 10 minutes of Tuesday night’s game with 19th-ranked Vanderbilt and the reason will be obvious. You can hustle, you can play with determination and you can have all the heart in the world, but when you can’t will the ball into the basket even a couple of times, NCAA bubbles tend to burst.
A win over Vanderbilt and the Gators (20-10, 9-6 SEC East) probably would have secured their place in the 64-team field and while this 64-60 loss to the Commodores (23-6, 12-3 SEC East) doesn’t eliminate Florida from NCAA consideration, it casts a huge shadow of doubt over their chances. A date with third-ranked Kentucky in Lexington Sunday makes a three-game losing streak to end the regular season a distinct possibility and that’s not the type of resume that catches the attention of the folks that decide who goes dancing and who toils in the NIT.
The Gators had their chances to pull out the win against Vandy. There was no shortage of open shots and good looks at the basket but after Vernon Macklin’s layup with 9:53 remaining that gave the Gators a 51-48 lead, Florida went stone cold. Eleven shots went up and eleven drew iron.
The law of averages says one or two would fall and that’s all it would have taken to win the game and break Florida’s string of two straight trips to the NIT, but the ball just wouldn’t go in for the Gators. On the other end of the floor, Vanderbilt got off to a hot shooting night and after losing its touch for much of the second half, regained it when it counted the most. The Commodores outscored the Gators by a whopping 30-6 from the three-point line.
“I thought the three-point line was a huge difference,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I think when you see a disparity like we had when it’s 10 for them and three for us, it really shows how hard our guys battled and fought defensively. We held them in the second half to 32 percent but we really, really struggled. We’ve won some games shooting in the high 30s but shooting 26 percent in the second half was a difficult obstacle to overcome and our guys tried to but just weren’t able to do it.”
It was the second straight heartbreaking loss for the Gators, who lost by two to Georgia in Athens back on Saturday, and it was their sixth loss by six or fewer points this season and in five of those six losses, the Gators have shot a collective 17-82 on three-pointers. They were 2-13 against Vanderbilt and one of the two came from one of the more unlikely sources on the team when Ray Shipman buried a three at the halftime buzzer, just his third of the season and first since November 27 against Michigan State.
If it were only the three-pointers that wouldn’t fall, the Gators still would have been in good shape to win but this was a night when even the gimmes didn’t want to go down.
Kenny Boynton, who enjoyed perhaps his best shooting night ever against Georgia on Saturday, 2-15 from the field. He had two of his missed three-balls (he was 1-6) do everything but go down. He went 1-9 on two-point shots and at least four of those hung on the rim before teetering the wrong way.
Erving Walker had another one of those poor shooting nights that plagued him most of February. A new month didn’t provide a new start as he hit just 1-9 from the field and 0-3 on his threes.
“It’s hard for those guys [Boynton and Walker],” Donovan said. “There are no subs. They have to play defense and they’re playing both ends of the floor. There is some physical duress on those guys.”
While Boynton and Walker couldn’t get shots to fall, Chandler Parsons, who had scored in double figures seven straight games and was coming off a 29-point effort at Georgia, could barely get a shot off. The focal point of Vanderbilt’s defensive strategy, Parsons could squeeze off only four shots (he made one) and finished the game with three points, his lowest total of the entire season.
“I really felt like in the game they were going to do that [try to take Parsons out of the game],” Donovan said. “I think what Kevin (Stallings, Vanderbilt coach) does is he takes (Jeffery) Taylor and he takes (Jermaine) Beal and puts them on the other team’s two best offensive players (Parsons and Walker) and then he takes Jenkins and Tinsley and puts them on what he deems the other team’s worst offensive players. I thought we really did a good job of going at those two guys. Just watching Taylor, he guards anywhere from one through four and he’s a special defender. He really did a nice job on Chandler.”
While the Gators couldn’t find the range from the three-point line, Vanderbilt went 10-20 and that was the difference in the game. The Commodores hit their first four threes they attempted (three by Jermaine Beal) in the first 6:24 of the game to take a 20-8 lead. The Gators got some unexpected offense out of Dan Werner, who scored six of Florida’s next 10 points to knock the Vandy lead to 26-18.
A three by John Jenkins, who finished the night 6-9 from beyond the arc took Vandy’s lead back to double figures (29-18) with 6:45 to go but that’s when the Gators began to claw their way back into the contest by pounding the ball inside to Macklin for eight of Florida’s next 12 points to close the gap to 35-27 with 3:01 remaining before the break.
A three-ball by Beal — Vandy’s sixth of the half — made it an 11-point game once again, but the Gators closed by scoring eight straight points, the last five from Shipman, who had his biggest scoring output since Florida’s December 1 win over Florida A&M. Shipman scored a pull-up jumper from 15 feet with 54 seconds to go and finished the half with a buzzer beating three from the right wing to bring the Gators to a 38-35 margin, the closest they had been since the opening two minutes of the game.
Vandy outscored the Gators 8-2 out of the second half gate to take a 46-37 lead but once again, the Gators hustled and scrapped their way back. Starting with an Erik Murphy tip-in with 15:27 left, the Gators outscored Vanderbilt, 18-4 over the next seven minutes, most of them with Boynton playing the point.
A dunk-back by Macklin closed the Vandy lead to 46-45 with 12:57 left and Boynton finished a three-shot sequence that began with his miss from the right wing to give the Gators their first lead of the game at 47-46. Macklin’s layup with 9:53 remaining was the last time the Gators hit a shot from the field.
The Gators went 7-13 from the field during that 18-4 run but they couldn’t buy a basket the rest of the way. And, after shutting the Commodores down from the three-point line over a 13-minute stretch, they found the range just in time in the last 5:24 to pull out a win as Jenkins buried three three-pointers to bring Vandy back from five down.
The second of Jenkins’ three long balls tied the game at 57-57 with 4:27 to go and the third gave the Commodores the lead at 60-59 with 3:08 to go. Vandy got the lead for good at 62-60 when A.J. Ogilvy tipped in his own miss with 2:24 to go. Dan Werner seemed to have the ball in his grasp but Ogilvy, who is 6-11, came over the back and managed to tip the ball in.
That was the kind of night it was for the Gators, who so often did everything right only to see Vandy escape with something positive.
“We played great defense and Ogilvy threw up a shot but he found a way to sneak his arm in there and tip the ball in,” Donovan said.
Florida had a chance to tie the game at 62-62 but Boynton’s layup rolled off the rim with 2:06 left. After a defensive sequence in which the Gators got blocked shots by Boynton, Macklin and Dan Werner, the Gators had a chance to tie it up again with 54 seconds to go but Walker missed a jumper in the lane.
Walker atoned for his miss at the other end of the floor by picking Beal’s pocket with 22 seconds to go, setting up the Gators for a chance at a game-winning shot. After a time out with 17.3 seconds left, the Gators got the ball in the hands of Parsons on the out of bounds play. Parsons took the ball at the high post and when he tried to turn the corner, Vandy brought a double team so he dished off to Boynton for a wide open three that clanged off the iron.
“Chandler Parsons play down two was a phenomenal play,” Donovan said. “He drove the ball and got Boynton a wide-open three.”
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Gators, who were in a position to win the game even though they shot only 26.7 percent from the field in the second half and 0-7 on three-pointers. For the game, the Gators were 23-63 (36.5 percent) and 2-13 (15.4 percent) on three-pointers.
After giving up 15-28 shooting from Vandy in the first half, the Gators clamped down defensively and held the Commodores to 9-28 but those three-pointers proved the difference. Vandy hit only 14-36 on two-point shots (Florida was 21-50) but the Commodores had that 30-6 edge on three-pointers.
Florida outscored the Commodores 36-24 in the paint, 13-10 off turnovers and 20-10 on second chance points. There is no question that the Gators hustled and played hard and there is no question they played very good defense in the second half, but on this night they needed more.
“They [Vanderbilt] only took eight free throws in the game,” Donovan noted. “They average 33 a game. Our guys did a terrific job of playing defense without fouling and holding them to a very low percentage. They’re a really good team and with a really poor shooting night we weren’t able to overcome a really good team with a tough shooting night in the second half.”
If only it were about effort, the Gators would have won this game but effort alone couldn’t overcome a very bad shooting night. Someone had to knock down a shot or two in those last minutes but it didn’t happen and that is why the Gators might be staring down the barrel at a third straight trip to the NIT.
GAME NOTES: It was Senior Night for Dan Werner, who scored eight points, grabbed five rebounds, passed for an assist, blocked a shot and came up with two steals off the bench … Florida outrebounded Vanderbilt 42-36 … Tyus bounced back from a scoreless game (three rebounds) against Georgia with nine points and nine rebounds … The Gators were betrayed by their free throw shooting, going 12-18 although they did hit nine of their last 10 … Macklin had his fourth straight game in double figures, finishing with 21 points to go with nine rebounds, a blocked shot and two steals.
No. 19 VANDERBILT 64, FLORIDA 60
At Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
VANDERBILT (64) – Jermaine Beal 4-12 2-2 13, Andre Walker 3-7 0-1 7, John Jenkins 6-12 0-0 18, A.J. Ogilvy 7-12 2-3 16, Jeffery Taylor 2-6 0-0 4, Festus Ezeli 0-2 0-0 0, Brad Tinsley 0-3 0-0 0, Steve Tchiengang 2-2 2-2 6, Darshawn McClellan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-56 6-8 64.
Field-goal shooting: 24 of 56 for 42,9 percent. 3-point shooting: 10-20 for 50 percent (Jenkins 6-9, Beal 3-6, Walker 1-2, Tinsley 0-3). Free-throw shooting: 6 of 8 for 75 percent. Points off turnovers: 10. Second-chance points: 10. Fast-break points: 0. Points in the paint: 26. Rebounds: 36 (Walker 8, Ogilvy 8). Assists: 13 (Beal 6). Blocked shots: 3 (Walker, Jenkins, Ogilvy). Steals: 8 (Ogilvy 4). Turnovers: 13 (Beal 4). Total fouls (fouled out): 16 (none).
FLORIDA (60) – Kenny Boynton 2-15 2-2 7, Chandler Parsons 1-4 1-2 3, Erving Walker 1-9 3-4 5, Alex Tyus 4-7 1-2 9, Vernon Macklin 9-17 3-6 21, Ray Shipman 2-3 0-0 5, Dan Werner 3-6 2-2 8, Erik Murphy 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 23-63 12-18 60.
Field-goal shooting: 23 of 63 for 36.5 percent. 3-point shooting: 2 of 13 for 15.4 percent (Shipman 1-2, Boynton 1-6, Parsons 0-2, Walker 0-3). Free-throw shooting: 12 of 18 for 66.7 percent. Points off turnovers: 13. Second-chance points: 20. Fast-break points: 2. Points in the paint: 34. Rebounds: 42 (Tyus 9, Macklin 9). Assists: 12 (Walker 5, Boynton 4). Blocked shots: 5 (Boynton 2). Steals: 8 (Parsons 2, Walker 2, Macklin 2, Werner 2). Turnovers: 9 (Boynton 3). Total fouls (fouled out): 10 (none).
Halftime: Vanderbilt 38, Florida 35. Officials: Doug Simons, Ed Corbett, Mike Roberts. A—11,607. Records: Vanderbilt 23-6, 12-3 SEC East; Florida 20-10, 9-6 SEC East.
For the latest standings, click below:
Tuesday, March 2
No. 19 Vanderbilt 64, Florida 60
Wednesday, March 3
Alabama at South Carolina, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Arkansas at No. 13 Tennessee, 7 p.m. (CSS)
Mississippi State at Auburn, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
No. 3 Kentucky at Georgia, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Thursday, March 4
Louisiana State at Mississippi, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday, March 6
Auburn at Alabama, 1:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
South Carolina at No.19 Vanderbilt, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
Mississippi at Arkansas, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Georgia at Louisiana State, 5 p.m. (FSN)
No. 13 Tennessee at Mississippi State, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Sunday, March 7
Florida at No. 3 Kentucky, 12 p.m. (CBS)
At Sommet Center, Nashville, Tenn.
Thursday, March 11
Game, 1 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 2, 3:15 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 3, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 4, 9:45 p.m. (SEC Network)
Friday, March 12
Game 5, 1 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 6, 3:15 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 7, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 8, 9:45 p.m. (SEC Network)
Saturday, March 13
Game 9, 1 p.m. (ABC)
Game 10, 3:15 p.m. (ABC)
Sunday, March 14
Game 11, Championship, 1 p.m. (ABC)