Usually, Florida’s offense is the issue. On Tuesday night, its defense was equally as bad.
With 6:38 left in the game, Florida was down by just two points. The Gators went 0-3 on their next three possessions with a chance to tie or take the lead. Vanderbilt’s Wade Baldwin IV then hit a three-pointer, and the Commodores ended the game on a 17-7 run while the Gators missed 10 of their final 13 shot attempts.
Florida fell to Vanderbilt 87-74 in the Gators’ second-straight home loss after starting the season 12-1 at the O’Connell Center. The Gators (17-11, 8-7 Southeastern Conference) never led in the game.
"We don’t have an identity," redshirt sophomore John Egbunu said. "We pride ourselves on the defensive end of the floor, and we really didn’t do a good job of that tonight."
The Commodores’ 87 points and 57.7 field-goal percentage were both season highs given up by Florida’s defense. UF has now lost two straight games for just the second time this season.
The end of the first half couldn’t have gone much worse for the Gators. While trying to tie or take the lead going into halftime, Schuyler Rimmer had a layup attempt blocked by guard Matthew Fisher-Davis. The ball found the hands of Vanderbilt’s Josh Henderson, who heaved an 80-foot line-drive three-pointer and nailed it at the buzzer.
Instead of a tied game at halftime, Vanderbilt (17-11, 9-6 SEC) led 40-35. The Commodores celebrated the buzzer-beater while many of the Gators had their hands on their knees wondering what had just happened.
"It was real deflating," Devin Robinson said of the buzzer-beater to end the first half. "Everybody was in the locker room upset, but we just had to keep rallying. It was a bogus play. It happens in basketball, but I mean we just had to keep rolling."
Center Damian Jones scored a career-high 27 points for Vanderbilt on 12-of-13 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in the Commodores’ win. Jeff Roberson scored 18 and had 10 rebounds while Baldwin IV and Fisher-Davis had 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Vanderbilt shot 50 percent (10-20) from three-point range, the second-highest percentage given up by Florida since Kentucky shot 60 percent against the Gators on Feb. 6.
Florida’s offense was characteristically flat, shooting just 40 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from beyond the arc. The Gators’ top two scorers this season, Dorian Finney-Smith and KeVaughn Allen, combined to shoot 1-of-14 from the field for 10 points. Justin Leon led the team with 15 points off the bench, and John Egbunu added 14 along with four rebounds.
As March draws closer, Florida’s offense continues to underperform. The Gators have been able to rely on tough defense to keep games close this season, but with just three regular season games remaining, Tuesday night’s performance was a bad precursor to Florida’s postseason hopes.
"We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board and just come out at LSU ready to play," Robinson said. "Come out hard from the jump, and we didn’t do that tonight."