Tournament Hopes Still Alive As Gators Down Commodores

Everything was going Vanderbilt’s way until the final minutes of the game where an inspired run by the Gators finished off by a potential season-saving three by Phandrous Fleming completing a Florida comeback and giving the Gators an 82-78 win on the road. With under four minutes remaining the Commodores led by 8 but the Gators were able to whittle down the lead and ultimately had the ball down by 1 with 21 seconds left. Tyree Appleby created a passing lane and entered the ball into the post to Colin Castleton who quickly recognized a Vanderbilt player doubling down, leaving Fleming open. He calmly hit Fleming in the shooting pocket who drilled a three giving the Gators a two point lead with 6 seconds remaining. Then, disaster almost struck. With Vanderbilt having 6 seconds to make it the length of the floor Brandon McKissic committed a foul trying to stay in front of Scotty Pippen, sending him to the line for the 1-and-1. Dramatically, he missed the first, giving Florida the win. The Gators were behind the 8-ball for much of this game but found a way to win, keeping their NCAA Tournament dreams alive. They also improved to 9-8 in the SEC, the first time they have had a winning record in a couple of weeks.

 

Finally Heating Up

 

One of the encouraging elements of this game was the fact that Florida, who has struggled to shoot threes for much of the season, had one of their best shooting performances going 10-21 from three. It was fitting that on one of their best shooting games of the season it was a three from Fleming that ultimately won the game, and gives some hope that the Gators will be able to get offense from behind the arc in the final weeks of the season. Making the shooting performance even more interesting is the fact that this game was at Vanderbilt’s famed Memorial Gymnasium, an atypical court that is notorious for opposing teams coming in and struggling to shoot. Myreon Jones stayed on his quality shooting streak with a 3-7 night while Tyree Appleby (3-5), Phlandrous Fleming (2-4), and Brandon McKissic (1-2) were also efficient. If the Gators can continue to shoot the ball like this their ceiling becomes much, much higher.

 

Still An Issue

 

Florida’s defense has been getting steadily worse over the last few weeks and Tuesday’s game against the Commodores who entered the game as the 124th ranked offense according to KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric was able to torch them for 78 points on 57% shooting from the field and 52% from three. It has to be noted that there was some absolutely ridiculous late clock shotmaking from the Commodores who had six late clock buckets that were extremely difficult attempts, but that wasn’t the only element of their hot offensive night. Florida was getting scrambled in pick and roll defense and also struggled in isolation, evidenced by a smooth Scotty Pippen jumper that would put the Commodores ahead and would have won the game if not for Fleming’s go-ahead three. Pippen finished with 29 points on 11-18 shooting, having his way with just about any defender the Gators put on him.

 

Steadily Improving

 

Sophomore Niels Lane has been getting more and more minutes recently and while it has largely been because of his defense he was able to contribute offensively as well Tuesday adding in 8 points on 3-3 shooting with the 8 points being a career high. His three field goals came off intelligent basketball plays, whether attacking a bad closeout or sneaking behind the defense with a timely cut. He knows he’s never going to be a primary offensive option on this team but his ability to get 8 points efficiently was huge for a Florida team that often relies on volume three-point shooting to put up points. If he’s able to contribute a bucket here or there to compliment his defense on the other end he’ll be a key piece in Florida’s rotation.

 

Final Thoughts

 

It wasn’t always pretty and it looked for much of the second half like the Gators were cooked but as we have seen time and time again this team is going to scratch, claw, and never give up in games and we saw that resiliency pay off on Tuesday with a huge win that keeps their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. As of right now this a quadrant-1 win for the Gators (their third of the season) but if Vanderbilt drops at all in the NET rankings (which is entirely possible since they are 75th and the cutoff for this being a quad-1 for the Gators is…75th) it will become a quad-2. That’s still a nice win for the Gators who need one, and perhaps more importantly a loss that they couldn’t take that they avoided. They live to fight another day, and they’ll have one heck of a fight Saturday when they take on Kentucky.

 

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.