NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Dorian Finney-Smith scored 19 points, and No. 1 Florida held off Vanderbilt 57-54 on Tuesday night to clinch at least a share of its second straight Southeastern Conference title and seventh overall.
Patric Young added 12 points for the Gators (26-2, 15-0 SEC), who continued the best season in school history by winning their 20th straight game, and now they will have a chance to claim their third SEC title in four years all to themselves with a win against LSU on Saturday.
The Commodores (15-12, 7-8) beat Florida 83-70 the last time the Gators came into Memorial Gym ranked No. 1, on Feb. 17, 2007. Coach Kevin Stallings only has seven healthy scholarship players right now, and they proved no match for Florida’s smothering defense.
The Commodores sure made it interesting.
Kyle Fuller missed a tying 3 in the final seconds, and Dai-Jon Parker missed a putback attempt.
Rod Odom scored 12 points and Parker added 11 as Vanderbilt outshot Florida 48.8 percent (20 of 41) to 40.4 percent (21 of 52). The Commodores hit four of eight 3-point attempts in the second half to stay close.
The Commodores came in 8-16 all-time against top-ranked teams tapping into what they like to call Memorial magic in Nashville. The old gym wasn’t sold out Tuesday night, but fans certainly were as loud as they have been all season trying to urge Vanderbilt to an improbable upset.
Florida led 32-25 at halftime and pushed that out to 53-45 only to see Vanderbilt rally each time. Fuller’s three-point play with 3:16 remaining made it 53-50. Finney-Smith hit a free throw, then Vanderbilt forced a shot clock violation when Scottie Wilbekin’s desperate shot from long range banked off the backboard and rim. Fuller made two free throws with a minute left.
Finney-Smith got the ball wide open and knocked down a 3 with 30.6 seconds to go for the clinching basket.
Fuller answered with a driving layup. Wilbekin dribbled away precious seconds before being fouled only to miss the front end of a 1-and-1. Vanderbilt took a timeout to set up a tying shot but couldn’t connect.
Florida outrebounded Vanderbilt 32-26 and had a 13-1 scoring edge in second-chance points. The Gators’ bench also outscored the Commodores’ 25-11.
The Gators forced 11 of Vanderbilt’s 16 turnovers in the first half. Even as the Gators swarmed Vanderbilt defensively, pressing early and often, they couldn’t shut down the Commodores.
Florida scored 13 straight points to take the lead for good in the first half. Wilbekin’s jumper tied it up, then Casey Prather stole the ball and dunked to put Florida ahead to stay at 13-11 with 11:52 to go. Frazier hit consecutive 3s to cap the spurt and put the Gators up 22-11.
The Commodores scored 11 of the next 13 points to keep Florida from running away.