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Florida 69, Vanderbilt 63: Tre Mann shoulders load to help Gators advance

Florida’s sensational sophomore came up big to help his team survive Vanderbilt.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Vanderbilt vs Florida Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

A game that Florida looked poised to make a rout — after an 8-0 run to close the first half produced a 34-22 halftime lead — would turn into an old-fashioned shootout down the stretch on Thursday, with Florida’s Tre Mann and Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen Jr. emptying their respective repertoires to carry their teams.

At the end of the duel, it was Mann and his Gators who stood tall — and survived.

Mann scored 22 points — one shy of Pippen’s 23 — and came up with big plays and bigger baskets down the stretch against the Commodores, propelling the Gators to a 69-63 win in the SEC Tournament’s second round and setting up a showdown with Tennessee in a Friday quarterfinal.

It would be hard to find many flaws in Mann’s all-around game on this day, as he added seven rebounds and six assists — and just two turnovers — to his scoring output. Repeatedly, he did things as big as hitting the 19-footer that put Florida up by three for good with just under a minute to play and as small as capturing the long rebound leading to that shot and saving balls going out of bounds under the Gators’ basket in ways that would lead to points and fouls.

From the 7:13 mark to the 0:13 mark of the second half, Mann would score or assist on all nine Florida points, record three rebounds, and notch his only steal of the day.

And that clutch play was needed to survive Vandy, which had Pippen getting his shots and getting to the line for much of the second half and which took the lead briefly after Trey Thomas hit three threes on consecutive possessions midway through the period.

Florida shot 47 percent from the floor but just 32 percent from three, and allowed nine Vandy threes — albeit on 31 attempts — while forcing just nine turnovers. While the Gators also mostly controlled the boards, Vandy’s ability to take care of the ball and Pippen’s talent for getting to the line, where he made all 10 of his free throws, made sure the ‘Dores weren’t ever truly out of the game; likewise, Florida’s inability to heat up from deep beyond a brief hot streak from Noah Locke (3-for-8 from three, 13 points) near the end of the first half kept the Gators from building a bigger lead.

Now they will face Tennessee, a team that has allowed Florida to build big leads both insurmountable and conquered this year. For the Gators, having Mann has to instill some hope that they could repeat the outcome he participated in in Gainesville, rather than the one he missed last Sunday in Knoxville.