Florida 66, Vanderbilt 40: Gators win SEC championship in strangulation

Al Messerschmidt

Florida's vaunted defense came to play against Vanderbilt, and held the Commodores in check until the Gators' offense revved up in the second half. For that, Florida won an SEC title.

With another win showcasing its suffocating defense, Florida claimed the outright SEC title on Wednesday. And the Gators' 66-40 victory over Vanderbilt had a football feel.

Florida won by relying on its only hogmollie, Patric Young, who had 14 points, including 10 in the first half, and on veterans coming through, as seniors Kenny Boynton (15 points), Erik Murphy (10 points) and Mike Rosario (five points, which came in a personal 5-0 run that broke a 2-2 tie — the only one after 0-0 on the night) combined for the bulk of Florida's scoring.

Florida also locked down on the Commodores in the first half as both teams struggled to score, and led by football scores — 13-6, 17-6, 20-6 — while keeping Vanderbilt on six points for 7:45 of the first half. The halftime score, too, was a football tally: 24-14 in Florida's favor.

Then, the Gators opened it up, in the style of Steve Spurrier — or, more accurately, Billy Donovan. Florida put up 42 points in the second half, and effectively ended the competitive portion of the proceedings with a 13-0 run sparked by a technical foul on Vanderbilt's Sheldon Jeter for his reaction to a charge drawn by Casey Prather.

Boynton and Murphy, Florida's two seniors with four years as Gators, earned their 100th wins with Florida, while Rosario earned his 50th as an active Gators player. All three enjoyed a standing ovation from the crowd as Donovan removed them from the game together with less than three minutes to play.

Gators players and coaches cut down the nets after the game — Young was treated to a "ONE MORE YEAR!" serenade from the remaining crowd — to celebrate their second outright SEC title in three years and the fifth SEC regular season championship of Donovan's tenure.

The work is not done for Florida, and neither is the regular season: Florida travels to Kentucky on Saturday with an excellent chance to end a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats at Rupp Arena. And with highly-ranked teams dropping like flies (Indiana, Georgetown, and Miami have all fallen since Tuesday), the Gators have an opportunity to answer the last question about them — "Can they beat a good team on the road?" — in Lexington.

Tonight is for celebrating, for wearing nets as necklaces and basking in the cheers of a smallish Spring Break crowd that was quiet in the early goings and raucous as the game waned and remembering the fantastic careers of three seniors who have given plenty to the Florida program.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday should be dedicated to one thing: Beating Kentucky.

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