Florida played some good stretches of basketball today but the inability to get a key stop and some questionable late game execution lead the Gators to a disappointing 71-68 loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores. Now 17-10, this year’s squad already has one more loss on the season than last year’s team. Making this game even more disheartening is the fact that the Gators had an 11-point lead in the second half and blowing double digit leads has become more the norm than keeping them. Keith Stone was the leader for the Gators with 20 points and 6 rebounds (most of them in the first half) while Chris Chiozza (3-10) and Jalen Hudson (4-12) both struggled from the field. Jeff Roberson (26 points, 7 rebounds) and Riley LaChance (21 points) gave the Gators fits all night and their ability to dominate Florida’s defense was ultimately the difference.
Vanderbilt wasn’t met with much resistance in their attempts to score tonight shooting 49% from the field, 41% from three, and 92% from the free throw line. The Commodores are proven to be a strong offensive team but a lot of their baskets came from misplays from the Gators. Chris Chiozza is known for his defensive play but he got abused all night by Riley LaChance who both torched him in isolation for layups or used screens from Jeff Roberson to get Cheese lost in no mans land. A fiery competitor there isn’t many nights you can criticize Chiozza’s defense but tonight his desire to constantly shoot passing lanes and hedge out towards ball handlers that aren’t his check lead him to be out of position far too often. KeVaughn Allen was another player guilty of running around too recklessly instead of sticking to his assignments and I hope this is a learning experience for them when they look back at the film. After playing well defensively their past two games against LSU and South Carolina their games against Georgia and now Vanderbilt have been steps back in that aspect.
There was a moment in the second half when the Gators still had a nice lead that you could feel the game start to slip away. Attracting the attention of most of the defense, Chris Chiozza spotted Michael Okauru cutting towards the hoop uncontested. After hitting him with a pass, Okauru went up too strong on a reverse layup attempt and missed entirely. Heading the other way the Commodores were able to get to the line to sink two free throws and that four-point swing started the collapse. It was a deflating moment to see that layup spill out but they have to be able to keep playing and not let a play like that take all the air out of the balloon.
Crunch Time Offense
With LaChance holding on to four fouls late the Gators went multiple possessions consecutively going to Chris Chiozza in the post, a phrase you don’t hear very often with a 5’11” point guard. I wasn’t a fan of this strategy as you took Chris Chiozza, a player struggling all game, out of his normal element and tried to get him to score in a way he never has in his four-year career. LaChance played intelligent defense on him and trusted his help side and the Gators weren’t able to get any good looks out of these isolations. The search for good offense down the stretch continues for Florida.
Hudson Struggles Again
After a late game travel lead to Florida’s loss against Georgia another unfortunate play for Jalen Hudson helped seal the game for Vanderbilt. With 36 seconds left coming off a scrambled play on Florida’s end the Gators broke out in a 3 on 2 fast break with Jalen Hudson dribbling the basketball down 69-68. Seeing an opening Hudson got right to the rim, finger rolled the ball to the hoop… and missed. With the Gators needing a key stop on the following possession Kevarrius Hayes took his turn making an ill-advised play by unnecessarily fouling Joe Toye with 5 seconds left on the shot clock, putting Florida in a difficult position to win the game. After Toye sunk both free throws to stretch the lead to 3 both Egor Koulechov and KeVaughn Allen had good looks to tie the game but they didn’t fall, resulting in the Gators now being in a 2-game losing slide.
What’s Up Next
The Gators start their toughest stretch of the Southeastern Conference slate with a game against Tennessee on the road. After being picked in the preseason to finish 13th in the SEC the Volunteers have been one of the best stories in college basketball by proving their doubters wrong and staying firmly planted in the AP Poll Top 25. This team relies on grittiness, toughness, and effort and in front of their home fans they’ll be ready to battle the Gators for 40 minutes. After Tennessee the Gators play Auburn, Alabama, and then Kentucky so they’ll need to play 2 weeks of focused basketball to remain near the top of the SEC standings.
What did you think of today’s game? Let me know in the comment section or post on the Gator Country forums.