Florida 57, Vanderbilt 54: Gators stave off Commodores, clinch share of SEC title

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't pretty. Florida didn't even play as well late as it has. But the result, another win, was attractive as ever.

Florida escaped this one, this trap game in Nashville on Vanderbilt's cartoonishly large court. The Gators gave up open looks in bunches to a team that had little other option, two of them on potential game-tying threes in the final minute. Scottie Wilbekin, icy as Gucci and Jeezy before the beef in final minutes of late, missed a free throw to put Florida up four with seconds to go, and only Kyle Fuller missing a three — and his teammates missing an open Fuller after grabbing an offensive board on that miss — kept this one from going to overtime.

But Florida won the game, too, taking a 57-54 decision at Vanderbilt for just its second win at Memorial Gym since 2007. It was the Gators' 20th straight win, and their first as No. 1 in the polls.

And it clinched at least a share of the SEC championship — Florida's second in as many years.

The hero on this night was Dorian Finney-Smith, whose 19 points and eight boards led all participants, and came, like he does, off the bench. Finney-Smith, mired in a terrible shooting slump — he was 1-for-23 on threes in February coming in — of late, made three of his six threes, and sank Florida's final shot on a massive three with less than a minute remaining.

Florida needed him, and that: No one else could score. After Patric Young put up 10 points in the first half, he finished with 12 for the game; Casey Prather posted a season-low two points, and they came on a dunk off a turnover; Wilbekin had seven points on 10 shots; Michael Frazier II banged in two threes in the first half, but was otherwise quiet.

So Finney-Smith and DeVon Walker — who hit both of his threes — provided 25 points of Florida's 57 from the bench, and got the Gators through another game. This year, there's seemingly always someone to get the Gators through; it's rarely the same guy twice in a row, but it's always someone.

That's how Florida's gotten to this point — to the highest base camp, not the summit — this season, with balance and selflessness and a rotating case of role players capable of star turns. That's what Florida is; that's what Florida does.

It's not perfect, but it's gotten the Gators this far. It can take them further still.

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