Like much of what Florida had done the last few minutes of regulation and into the early part of overtime, the play was a mess.
An overdribbled, directionless mess.
Then, with the shot clock slipping closer and closer to all zeroes, Erving Walker drove, got one foot in the lane and delivered a near-blind kickout to Kenny Boynton standing on the wing in front of the Gator bench with 10,115 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center standing breathlessly.
The sophomore shooting guard caught the pass and in one motion rose up with the go-ahead three-pointer.
From there, UF held off visiting Vanderbilt – including a close no-call on a three-point airball by Commodores’ standout guard John Jenkins – in the final 1:04 to take a 65-61 victory in what coach Billy Donovan called his team’s most physical game of the year.
“We fought hard for this one,” said Boynton, who scored 15 points, grabbed two rebounds and dished out two assists while also defending Jenkins, a sophomore who is the league’s leading scorer (19.1 ppg). “And when I get called upon, it’s my job to make that shot.”
In truth it probably should never have come to that.
Now 3-0 in league overtime games, Florida (17-5, 6-2 in the SEC East) had an 8-point lead with 12:24 remaining and were ahead 54-48 with 3:35 left in regulation. The Gators also had a full squad, while Vandy saw three contributors (center Festus Ezeli, swingman Jeffery Taylor and power forward Steve Tchiengang) all foul out before two minutes were gone in overtime.
However, both teams went cold late in the second half with UF going without a field goal in the final 6:18 and the Commodores (15-6, 3-4) doing the same in the last 4:06.
The difference was Vanderbilt was 6-for-6 from the free-throw line during that stretch while the Gators were 2-for-6.
However, with starting center Vernon Macklin (six points, five rebounds, four fouls, 0-for-2 on foul shots) sitting out all of overtime (coach’s decision), Florida traded the lead with the Commodores six times in the extra session until Boynton’s three gave UF a 63-61 advantage.
“That was a huge shot by Kenny,” swingman Chandler Parsons said. “Just huge.”
While Boynton may have been who everyone was talking about postgame, it was Parsons who kept the Gators in it through Jenkins’ onslaught (game-high 22 points, six rebounds).
In recording his 11th career double-double, Parsons had a team high in points (18) and a game-high in rebounds (11). Only a 51.7 percent foul shooter (31-of-60) entering the contest, Parsons sank 5-of-6 against Vanderbilt – a needed total considering the Gators were successful on just 15-of-26 (57.7 percent) as a team. That number included a combined 1-for-8 by Macklin and freshman forward Will Yeguete.
Aside from Parsons’ all-around game and Boynton’s late-game big shot, it could be considered a ho-hum performance.
At times there didn’t appear to be a lot of energy, but then one looks at the statistics and sees UF outrebounded Vanderbilt, 47-34. The Gators also forced the Commodores, who entered the game the SEC’s leader in points-per-game (78.8) and shooting percentage (46.3 percent), into a 21-of-56 (37.5 percent) outing.
“We were able to get some big stops when we needed to,” said Young, who had a huge blocked shot with the contest in the balance. “We didn’t play great the whole game, but when we needed to make a play or two, we were able to do that.”
*Gates open Saturday at 8:30 a.m. in the O’Connell Center to watch ESPN GameDay live. The ESPN crew will be in town for the Kentucky game.
*Boynton said he didn’t know SEC East rival Kentucky had lost at Mississippi until after the game. “That was nice to hear,” Boynton said.
*Vanderbilt star swingman Jeffery Taylor, an SEC second-team all-defensive team member in 2009-10, also is one of the Commodores’ top offensive threats. He entered Tuesday night’s game averaging 15.2 points and had reached double figures in scoring 63 times in his career. Against UF he made just 2-of-12 shots for seven points.
Gator Players of the Game: Chandler Parsons led UF with 18 points and 11 rebounds (four offensive). He also grabbed all three of his team’s steals and dished out two assists while turning the ball over just once in 39 minutes. His scoring total includes a 5-of-6 performance from the foul line.
Opposing Players of the Game: The SEC’s leading scorer, John Jenkins, poured in a game-high 22 points, grabbed six rebounds, had a steal and was forced into just one turnover in 42 minutes of action.
Play/sequence of the Game: With UF down 61-60 with 1:04 left in overtime, Kenny Boynton sank a three-pointer to give the Gators a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Stat of the Game: No Gators have fouled out this year. Three Commodores (Festus Ezeli, Steve Tchiengang and Jeffery Taylor) did on Tuesday night.
Next Up: The Gators will host Kentucky (16-5, 4-3) on Saturday at 9 p.m.