Just three days after a season-high scoring performance in his hometown of Athens, Georgia, Phlandrous Fleming Jr. may have saved Florida’s season.
With 19 seconds remaining, Fleming forced a turnover that gave the Gators possession down 78-77. With six seconds remaining, Fleming spotted up for three.
“They called the play ‘home run,’” Fleming said. “I was wondering who would go and get it.”
Fleming went and got it, and he hit it out of the park.
Florida (19-11, 9-8) defeated Vanderbilt (14-15, 6-11) 82-78 on a last second 3-pointer from the graduate transfer guard. The Gators are down to one matchup remaining after scraping by with a positive result in Nashville.
It was a competitive first half of play. Both teams shot 50% from 3-point range. Forward Colin Castleton, who missed the previous contest against Vandy at home, led the Gators with eight points in the opening 20 minutes. SEC leading scorer Scottie Pippen Jr. (21.8 PPG) had 11 for the ‘Dores.
Florida looked to have the makings of a huge win in them in the opening minutes, chasing in four of its first five 3-point shots to take the largest lead of the half at 16-8. Vanderbilt quickly turned the tides, following the Gators’ strong opening with a 12-4 run to tie the game at 20.
Both teams continued to take and make high-quality shots to end the half with Florida on top, 39-35. Vandy led the rebound margins by two, while the Gators forced two more turnovers than their opponent.
To the disappointment of the Gators, the Pippen Jr. show got started in the second half.
The junior guard ended the night with a game-high 29 points, 18 of those coming in the second half. His scoring outburst along with a contribution of 17 points from backcourt partner Trey Thomas led Vanderbilt to a 15-2 run and a seven point lead, 63-56, with under 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Florida would not go down so easy.
Guard Myreon Jones scored five consecutive points to bring the game within two points with just over six minutes remaining. The senior guard finished with 13 points, seven of which came in the second half, and tallied three makes from beyond the arc.
Vandy remained potent offensively, and the lead continued to escape the Gators as the clock ticked below the four minute mark. The Commodores cashed in their season-high 15th 3-pointer to bring the lead back up to eight. The Gators stayed vigilant and reduced the lead to just three with a minute remaining.
The story is written from here. Vandy was given one more chance to tie at the charity stripe, but Pippen Jr. missed the front end of a 1-and-1, the rebound falling safely into the hands of Castleton. The senior finished with 19 points and eight rebounds, leading UF in both categories, and recorded his lone assist of the game on Fleming’s game winner.
The Gators managed to squeak out a victory in a must-win game for UF’s March Madness chances. Vandy is top-75 in the NET, so playing away the win counts as a Q1 Victory for Florida, a huge resume boost as the season nears a close.
“Sometimes, you need a couple surprises to win on the road in this league,” head coach Mike White said. “Vanderbilt's the most improved team in our league. This is a really good win for us.”
Florida will finish out its regular season at home against No. 7 Kentucky on Saturday at 2 p.m. The game will be nationally televised on CBS.
Jackson Castellano is a junior sports media journalism student at UF and the Senior News Director at The Alligator for Fall 2023. In the past, he's served as the Sports Editor, Assistant Sports Editor and a Sports Reporter covering Football, Men's basketball and Baseball.