For Florida, Wednesday’s game against Mississippi State was proof that it can shoot itself to victory. The Gators win over Vanderbilt on Saturday was proof that they don’t have to.
Making nine of 36 threes and just six of 13 free throws, Florida nevertheless led nearly wire-to-wire and controlled the second half in a 61-42 win over Vanderbilt predicated on its swarming defense — one that thrived even without Colin Castleton.
The Gators allowed the Commodores to shoot just 29 percent from the field and an even worse 17 percent on threes, and conceded just 14 points after halftime. And really, Vanderbilt’s scoring was rather evenly balanced — and awful — over the course of the day. The ‘Dores sat on 13 points with 6:20 remaining in the first half, but managed a 15-8 spurt into halftime — one that was followed by Vandy breaking into double digits for the second half on free throws that came with 5:28 remaining.
By then, Florida was up by more than 15, its defense doing more than enough to let threes falling sparingly and other instances of fine offense build an insurmountable edge. And though Vandy did cut a 10-point Florida lead to three at halftime with that pre-intermission burst, Florida’s answer was a 12-0 run in the first four minutes of the second half that put this game away.
Only Tyree Appleby, who drilled three of his nine threes, made it to double figures in the game, scoring 11 for the Gators, but seven other Florida players had five or more points, and all five starters had at least six. No Commodore had more than seven, and star Scotty Pippen Jr. had one of his worst days with Vanderbilt, going 1-for-10 from the floor, 1-for-5 from three-point range, and 3-for-6 from the foul line as he struggled to six points and one assist.
Florida would — obviously — like to shoot better in future games, especially with a hellish week of two SEC roadies at Ole Miss and Tennessee and an SEC-Big 12 Challenge showdown against Oklahoma State on tap. The Gators played well enough without even coming close to shooting well on this day, though, to remind that their defense and decision-making will go a long way toward keeping them in — or ahead in — games in which shots are not falling at even a reasonable rate.