Florida essentially needed to beat Vanderbilt to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes on life support. Instead, the Gators flat-lined.
After yielding a 15-0 run to begin the game in Nashville on Tuesday night, Florida never got closer than three points again, and fell by a 67-61 count.
Early on, the Commodores did it with their potent pair of bigs, Damian Jones and James Siakam, who helped stake the 'Dores to an eight-point halftime lead with scoring down low and seven combined blocks in the first half. And late, it was a flurry of threes from Riley LaChance and a relentless parade to the foul line — where Vanderbilt shot 42 free throws, and made 29 — that kept Vandy comfortably at arm's length from the misfiring Gators.
Other than Michael Frazier, who rebounded from a tough start to score 21 points in the game's final 24 minutes, virtually every Gator was laying bricks tonight: Alex Murphy (3-for-5 for six points off the bench, sparking the Gators' response to Vandy's opening run) was the only Gator other than Frazier to make more than half of his shots.
Eli Carter, second on the team in scoring with 12 points, needed 17 shots to get them. Devin Robinson was 1-for-6, Dorian Finney-Smith was 2-for-6 (and exited early after picking up a fifth foul midway through the second half), and Kasey Hill was 2-for-7. Chris Walker and Jon Horford combined? 0-for-1 from the field, with five rebounds (four of them Horford's) and four points (all of them Horford's).
Sure, Florida outscored Vanderbilt by a 61-52 margin over the final 32:22 of the game. But there are holes too deep to escape, and these Gators are experts at digging them.
And in regards to the NCAA Tournament, this may have been a last swing of the spade.