By: Jenna Ladd
Fed up with coming up short in the final seconds, the Florida Gators decided to take matters into their own hands on Wednesday night against Vanderbilt. As usual, it was a nail-biter ending, but for the first time in their last five games, the Gators were able to finish and take a 50-47 win over Vanderbilt on Wednesday.
Who would have thought that the Gators would end their losing streak in a game without their two leading scorers? Granted, Alex Murphy has a history of playing well against Vandy, but they couldn’t rely on him solely.
Apparently Vanderbilt is within his comfort zone, because Murphy did not let the Gators down. He pumped out an impressive performance coming in as Florida’s second leading scorer with 11 points, tying for his career high back from when he played at Duke.
Desperation — a word that has plagued this team all season — finally was being said in a positive way after the Gators conquered the Commodores. “We played desperate, especially in the second half,” Murphy said. “We came out a little bit flat; offensively we were a bit stagnant in the first half. The energy was much better in the second half.”
Florida’s supporting cast was firmly in the spotlight on Wednesday and we are now catching glimpses of the entire team’s capabilities, albeit not on purpose. First losing Michael Frazier to an injury, then losing Dorian Finney-Smith to a violation of team rules, the odds seemed stacked against Florida.
Billy Donovan was disappointed to bench a dynamic player, saying, “I think it’s been a microcosm of this season. With our team, in what I would say is a lack of commitment, and a lack of consistency of what really goes into winning.”
Despite Finney-Smith’s second benching due to violating team rules since he’s been in Gainesville, Donovan still believes that he is a good, coachable, kid making some bad decisions. “It’s hard because I think when these things happen, it’s very easy to pass judgment on a kid who is a really good kid,” said Donovan.
They now needed the team to step up, and the freshmen on the team took it upon themselves to do so. Chris Chiozza was the leading scorer in the first half of the game with six points, just three points shy of the Commodores’ leading scorer, Riley LaChance.
Going into halftime, the Gators trailed the Commodores by six points at 25-19. Afraid of letting the game get away from them, Donovan put a fire under his team in the locker room.
“[Donovan] said a couple of words that probably hurt my feelings,” Devin Robinson said. D-Rob came back out on the court with a newfound fire, refusing to put his head down. After being benched early in the first half, he took the second half as a challenge – lighting up the offense by scoring 10 points. Those points contributed to make Devin the leading scorer for the Gators.
Regardless of the Gators being able to put up some shots on offense and Chris Walker coming up with ridiculous blocks on defense, they still only shot 36% from the field and a mere 23% behind the arc. What may have won the game for Florida is the fact that Vanderbilt, typically a force to be reckoned with behind the arc, only was able to make 30% of their treys.
That, and the fact that star Vandy player Damien Jones was in foul trouble, may have been what caused the Gators to come out on top. If those two factors were not in play, the amount of turnovers and free trips to the charity stripe that the Gators gave the Commodores may have made for a different ending.
Refusing to accept luck for the reason they won this matchup, hopefully the Gators will be able keep on creating their own luck. Florida is now 13-13 (6-7 SEC) and looking to keep this competitive spirit up amongst the team for when they battle the LSU Tigers on Saturday, February 21 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.