Gators Handle Lowly Commodores 61-55 In Nashville

It didn’t always look busy and at some points the game was uncomfortably close but ultimately the Gators were able to snap their 3-game losing skid with a 61-55 win over the lowly Vanderbilt Commodores. At one point in the second half the Gators were winning by 18 and it was looking like they’d ice away the game comfortably which should have been expected but a scoring drought that looked entirely similar to ones that plagued them against Baylor and Mississippi State allowed the Commodores to get back into the game. Ultimately the Gators were able to get enough stops and make the free throws they needed to win but they definitely didn’t pull it out in away that would aspire a ton of confidence.

Leading The Way

A handful of Gators seemed out of rhythm tonight but one player who was totally on his game was Keyontae Johnson. Unquestionably the best athlete on the floor he was exploiting whoever guarded him with unmatched strength and athleticism and he was able to get to the rim at will finishing with 20 points and 7 rebounds. The Gators never seemed to get into a groove offensively but whenever Johnson got the ball he was making things happen with quick drives to the hoop or 3-point attempts that found the bottom of the net. This season it has seemed like when Johnson is on the Gators play their best basketball and even though that wasn’t exactly the case tonight with the team struggling Johnson played well enough to will his team to victory.

Breaking A Streak

Noah Locke was on a bit of a cold shooting streak going 2 for his last 9 through the last few Gators losses where they could have really used some makes from him and he got back to his normal self with 17 points on 5-8 shooting from three. His timely shot making was the only thing that kept Vanderbilt from completely their comeback and every make from him allowed the Gators to breathe a sigh of relief. Outside of Locke the Gators were 4-15 from behind the arc so it’s a good thing they were getting production from the Baltimore native.

Lineup Changes

Florida’s best basketball recently has come from a lineup of Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Keyontae Johnson, Omar Payne, and Kerry Blackshear Jr. Florida’s offensive turnaround perfectly coincides with when the Gators went to that lineup at the start of SEC play but curiously that group hasn’t played together whatsoever in the last two games. With Florida not looking good in their last two it’s really surprising they’ve gotten away from this lineup and it makes you question what has changed. Payne only played 4 minutes tonight, even less than seldom-used Jason Jitoboh, which seems like a pretty interesting decision. Jitoboh was able to grab 2 rebounds in 6 minutes and it was good to see him out there after he hasn’t gotten a lot of run.

Final Thoughts

The Gators got a win but they didn’t look good in doing so. After their offense had drastically improved throughout SEC play this game looked like a step back and that’s particularly concerning since it was against a team whose last SEC win was in 2018. Kerry Blackshear’s near 6 points on 2-9 shooting was surprising considering the Commodores weren’t particularly equipped from a roster standpoint to handle him and Andrew Nembhard was also fairly pedestrian for the first half of the game. You would have loved to see the Gators blow out a lesser opponent in a fashion that would build their confidence but instead they leave this one probably not feeling the best about themselves. Their defense was tighter than it has been the last few weeks which could be encouraging but it’s tough to say how big of a stride they made considering how poor of a team Vanderbilt is. It wasn’t pretty but the Gators did get a much-needed win, but to know what this game really meant to the team we might need to wait to see what they do next.

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.