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

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

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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.