The Florida Gators basketball team suffered its second consecutive loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday. After Wednesday’s loss at South Carolina, the next game up was set to be a test of maturity to a Florida team that hadn’t faced failure in weeks. The game did test the maturity of the Gators, but they did not respond to adversity well.
After an 8-0 Vanderbilt run to start the game, Florida fought back to keep things even most of the first half and took a 32-27 lead to the locker room, mostly thanks to KeVaughn Allen’s 14 points in the first 20 minutes.
The Gators and Commodores went back and forth for 10 lead changes and nine ties in the game. With six lead changes in the final five minutes, it felt like whichever team put up the last shot would come out with the win.
After a strange series of events that included Florida opting not to foul down by two with 32 seconds left and a miraculous Allen steal with nine seconds on the clock, the Gators actually did have a chance to put up the final shot to tie or win the game.
Questionable inbounds play to Allen led to him putting up a three-point shot from the corner that was just off the mark. He had been so good all game, and he put up the best shot Florida could have hoped for in that moment, but it wasn’t quite there. The Commodores grabbed the defensive rebound and came away with the 68-66 win.
While the game should not have come down to that, Mike White did take full responsibility for letting the final play go down like it did instead of calling a timeout to make a different call. “I should’ve used one,” said White. “I had one left. I thought I could get down there in the corner and see if we had an open look and if not, I could call timeout, and before you know it, the ball was in the air to KeVaughn and we put him in a difficult situation and it’s my fault.”
While he didn’t hit the shot to win the game, Allen was pretty much the only reason the Gators were ever in the game, to begin with. After struggling in the last three games, he finally found his touch again against Vanderbilt. Allen posted a season-high 29 points, shooting 10-for-18 from the field, including 5-for-12 from beyond the arc, and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.
“KeVaughn was terrific. He was really good … As I told our guys, if he doesn’t throw in four or five high degree of difficulty shots, the game wouldn’t have been close. They had their way with us, other than KeVaughn hitting some hard shots.”
Vanderbilt did have its way with Florida on offense and defense for a majority of the game. On offense, the only other double-digit scorer for the Gators was Devin Robinson, who had 12. Behind him, no one else had more than six points.
For the most part, Florida looked no better against an average Vanderbilt defense than it did against one of the nation’s top defenses at South Carolina. After what seemed like a turnaround in the making on offense in recent weeks, the Gators are back to square one again trying to get things back in order.
“We played lazy offensively at times,” White said. “We looked tired. We looked tired running up and down the court. I told our guys, ‘We went 63 minutes yesterday. We went 45 minutes the day before. I don’t understand how we’re tired’. It’s not physical. I guarantee you, Vanderbilt practiced longer than we did, and traveled here.”
The defense was the same story. The Gators did not look prepared for the offense Vanderbilt brings in, but they knew it was coming. The Commodores came in as the SEC’s top three-point percentage team and Florida’s defense let them escape with an even better average than they came in with.
Vanderbilt was 10-for-25 from three on the day and shot 56.5 percent in the second half, and much of that was due to poor communication on Florida’s part. The Gators were switching on defense all game long and little communication led to open shot after open shot for the Commodores, especially in the second half.
Overall, White was disappointed in the character his team showed in the game. There was no voice of leadership on the court or on the bench, which is something Florida thought it had moved on from after struggling with that problem in recent years.
“Our focus needs to improve immensely,” he said. “We’ve known that all year. Now, it needs to improve tenfold after we took about six steps backward today. Our ownership needs to improve. For whatever reason, we couldn’t get stops against Georgia, but there was a better aura, there was better body language. I’m not sure if you noticed that or not, but our timeouts were, we had some finger pointing going on. We had a lot of immaturity that showed up. Our culture has really improved. Today, we had a lot of ugliness that showed back up.”
Now, White’s message to his team is clear. It’s time to right the ship before it’s too late. “Now there’s a fork in the road here, and do we panic? Do we point fingers? Do we blame each other? Or do we simply man-up and put some of our deficiencies on ourselves and find a way to, you’ve heard me say it a million times, I wear it out, but find a way to get better. Find a way to get better every day. That obviously wasn’t our focus today.”