For a while, it appeared that Florida would be able to chalk up a loss to Vanderbilt on Tuesday night in the O'Connell Center as a product of spectacularly poor luck. The Commodores got an absurd heave from their own free throw line to finish the first half, then a banked-in 25-foot three early in the second half, and those six points seemed likely to be the margin in the game.
Instead, Florida went cold late, as is its wont, and the Gators have nothing to blame for their 87-74 loss to Vanderbilt — and the tenuous positioning in regards to the NCAA Tournament that will come with it — but themselves.
Florida's primary problem on this night was a total inability to stop Damian Jones, who had 27 points on 13 shots without even taking a free throw. Sure, three other Vandy starters scored at least 12 points, and the Gators hemorrhaged the 87 points, their most of the season, but Jones was the consistently unstoppable one, too strong for Dorian Finney-Smith, too big for Florida's guards, and too quick for John Egbunu.
Virtually everything else went wrong, too, though. Florida's offense worked only when about half of the Gators took shots, as Egbunu, Kasey Hill, Justin Leon, and Devin Robinson combined to score 48 points on 18-for-27 shooting, and every other Gator combined for 26 points on 6-for-32 shooting. Florida committed just seven turnovers, but allocated them atrociously, allowing Vandy to build an easy 9-2 lead early. A 5-for-19 night from three was just par for the course; a 21-for-27 performance from the line was just wasted. Florida closed to 67-65 late in the second half, then promptly forgot how to play offense.
And luck was decidedly not with the Gators.
Vanderbilt just drained this heave buzzer-beater from Florida’s foul line. Unbelievable. pic.twitter.com/8TM5I8EplQ— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) February 24, 2016
Six minutes later, Vanderbilt hits this absurd shot-clock buzzer-beating three. pic.twitter.com/cNUpgcsSu1— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) February 24, 2016
This was a bad loss for Florida not just because it erodes some of the cushion the Gators enjoyed in regards to their NCAA Tournament prospects, but because it was a manifestation of just about every flaw this team has, ones that overshadow its strengths. (Florida did rally to make a game in which its red-hot opponent was making everything a close contest, not that anyone will want to recall that.)
Worst of all, it will force Florida to play with its back to the wall over its last three games of this regular season — tilts against an LSU team that is stocked with talent; a Kentucky outfit that thrashed Florida without Alex Poythress, who should return; and a lowly Missouri team that will be playing its last home game in its current arena.
While that would be the recipe for determined, inspired play from some teams, it can't be counted on from these Gators. This loss to Vanderbilt was that kind of night, yes.
But Florida seems capable of having one of those nights a few more times.