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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Gators men’s basketball handles business at home against Vanderbilt

Junior guards Will Richard and Walter Clayton Jr. had solid performances to combine for 40 points

Gators men's basketball junior guard Will Richard begins to shoot the ball in the team's 77-64 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday, February 24, 2024.
Gators men's basketball junior guard Will Richard begins to shoot the ball in the team's 77-64 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday, February 24, 2024.

Junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. pushed the ball up the court on a fast break with two shooters wide open on the wings.

The sequence wrapped up the game in a nutshell for Florida. A balanced offensive attack that kept the Vanderbilt defense on its toes.

As Clayton Jr. arrived at the top of the key, fellow junior guard Will Richard stood wide open on the left wing before catching a bullet pass from Clayton Jr. to drain a 3-point dagger.

Florida (19-8,9-5 SEC) cruised past Vanderbilt (7-20, 2-12 SEC) 77-64 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Saturday. In front of another sold-out crowd at the O’Dome, the Gators put their talents on display in dominating fashion.

“Depth is a huge part of our success,” Florida head coach Todd Golden said. “They’re [his team] all unique and really talented in their own ways.”

UF jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the game’s opening minutes. Graduate student forward Tyrese Samuel sparked Florida’s offense with six points in the first 2:30.

While the Gators were settling into a groove offensively, the Commodores were doing just the opposite. Vandy went on a scoring drought of over two minutes which included seven straight misses from the field.

“I thought this was one of our better defensive efforts,” Golden said. “In the big picture, I thought we gave ourselves a really good chance by the way we locked in.”

It was a balanced attack for Florida in the first half. Seven players recorded points in the game’s opening 20 minutes. Junior guard Will Richard and Clayton Jr. combined for 16 points and four 3-pointers.

Richard posted a game-high 21 points and earned high praise from his head coach.

“When he bangs shots, it definitely opens up a lot of things for us,” Golden said. “And he’s gotten a lot better defensively and improved a little bit on the glass.”

However, both offenses went stagnant midway through the first half. Vanderbilt’s offensive struggles continued with a poor 2-for-13 stretch. The Gators couldn’t find the bottom of the net either, shooting 1-for-8 during the same stretch.

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However, a 5-0 UF run sparked by a Clayton Jr. 3-pointer gave Florida its largest lead of the first half at 33-16 with three minutes left on the clock. Samuel flushed home a dunk on the Gators’ final possession as they took a 35-20 lead into the break.

Vanderbilt and Florida traded blows in the opening minutes of the second half.  The Commodores rattled off a 6-0 run that was capped off with a tough layup from fifth-year senior guard Ezra Manjon to shrink the Gators’ lead to 42-29 with 15:56 left in the game. 

The Gators have had a difficult time putting teams away while holding large leads in the second half. But the issue didn't continue for UF in Saturday’s contest.

Richard scored five straight points after splashing a 3-pointer from the left wing and then stepped to the charity stripe to drain two free throws.

“I’ve been getting some extra reps in at practice,” Richard said. “I’ve been working on staying in my shot and not leaning back.”

Though, the Commodores wouldn’t go away, putting together another run. Vandy scored eight unanswered points to cut the Florida lead to ten points with 13:51 left to play.

The matchup could have gone one of two ways down the stretch, and the Gators have been more familiar with one than the other. After having difficulties hanging on to leads in the second half of games, they kept their foot on the gas all throughout their matchup against Vandy.

Vanderbilt never saw its deficit shrink to single digits as UF continued to execute at a high level down the stretch of the game. The Commodores scored the last seven points of the contest but it wasn’t enough to come back from the deficit they suffered throughout.

“I think we need to build more mental toughness,” Clayton Jr. said. “Being able to get up and keep those leads sustained and just finish out games.”

Next, Florida will take on Missouri on Wednesday. Tip-off will be at 7 p.m. in the O’Connell Center.

Contact Max @ Follow him on X @MaxTuckerUF25.

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Max Tucker

Max Tucker is a junior transfer student at UF. After obtaining his A.A. in Journalism from Santa Fe College in 2023, he chose further his education at Florida's College of Journalism and Communications. Max is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Journalism with a specialization in sports and media. He enjoys golfing and going to the beach with his friends in his free time. Max will be covering the Gators Golf teams this Fall for The Alligator.

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