It was a scrappy one in Gainesville as both teams shot the ball under 36% and had to scratch and claw for every point but in the end it was the Gators who came out on top with a 66-57 victory over the lowly Vanderbilt Commodores who have now extended their losing streak from 11 games to 12. Trailing 33-31 at the half the Gators were in some tough spots as they struggled offensively but they were able to execute just enough in the final frame to leave the O’Dome with the win. Keyontae Johnson lead the way for Florida with 17 points and 9 rebounds in yet another tremendous effort that included him hitting the final free throws that put the game out of reach. The Gators now set their sights towards a matchup on Saturday against Alabama that is sure to be a physical affair.
In modern college basketball it seems like the team with the better guard play wins almost every time but that wasn’t the case tonight as Florida’s two leading scorers KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke struggled mightily combining for 1-19 from the field. That is not a typo as KeVaughn Allen didn’t get a single field goal tonight and Noah Locke was 1-9 from long-range, uncharacteristically missing wide open looks and putting up air balls on two separate occasions. Considering the Gators struggle to score the ball regularly and their two best scorers were frustrated tonight they are lucky to come away with a win.
KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke weren’t the only starters to struggle as Kevarrius Hayes (13 minutes) and Andrew Nembhard (16 minutes) weren’t able to get much rhythm as they were stuck to the bench with foul trouble. Luckily for the Gators a few key reserves stepped up and provided great minutes. Isaiah Stokes was able to finish on some post ups for 8 points and Dontay Bassett had a blocked shot and a charge taken while protecting the rim to help cover for Hayes being on the bench. Mike Okauru was the one to step up in Nembhard’s absence with 5 points and some excellent work on the defensive end. Depth has not been a strength for the Gators this year but the bench stepped up tonight.
For the second game in a row the Gators won the rebounding category and that is a great sign for an undersized team that needs to be able to finish defensive possessions with a board. They were +4 against a Vanderbilt team that isn’t tremendous on the glass but it’s still a nice accomplishment for a Gators team that was battling after every miss.
Florida doesn’t have a great stopper on the wing to neutralize their opponent’s best perimeter threat and it burned them tonight as they couldn’t contain Aaron Nesmith who burned them for 26 points and 2 assists. Luckily for the Gators they were able to keep the game just out of Vanderbilt’s reach enough because if it came down to a single possession game I’m not sure they would have been able to stop Nesmith. At 6’6” he was using long strides to glide past KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke and he got was able to cross Jalen Hudson over on a handful of possessions. He got his tonight but luckily it wasn’t enough to win the game for the Commodores.
This was a stressful game for the Gators as a loss could have been the final blow to their NCAA Tournament dreams and it was too close for comfort for most of it. The fact they were able to overcome a game in which their best players struggled is impressive but it’s also fairly concerning that their primary scorers could be bottled up by the worst team in SEC. In Noah Locke’s case I’ll chalk it up to bad luck. He got open shots and he’s been hitting them with consistency all year long and he was due for a bad shooting night. In Allen’s case it’s a bit different as it never seemed like he got a good look at the rim and it wasn’t like he was missing bunnies. He’s got to find a way to find offense for himself when open shots aren’t presenting themselves, such as tonight when Andrew Nembhard was off the floor with foul trouble.