In the final game of 2017 for both Florida and Vanderbilt, the Gators decided enough was enough.
Enough losing to Vanderbilt. Enough scoring droughts. Enough of this perception that they don’t play defense. Enough frustration, period.
The Gators scored 31 points over the remaining eleven minutes of the half, highlighted by a pair of threes each from Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen and Egor Koulechov over that stretch, and survived a late scare from Vanderbilt for an 81-74 victory. The win is Mike White’s first over the Commodores in six tries as head coach of the Gators, and more importantly, it puts Florida at 1-0 in the SEC for the sixth straight year.
Florida never trailed in this one, but not for a lack of trying.
The Gators led 40-20 at halftime, but then Vandy launched an 18-7 lead out of the gates in the second half thanks to another of the Gators’ patented ice-cold offensive stretches. From there, the teams more or less traded buckets until Deaundrae Ballard knocked down a three to put Florida up 68-54 with 6:05 to go.
Then Florida really came apart. The Gators went the next four minutes without a single bucket while Vandy clawed its way back into the game, eventually drawing within 74-70 on the strength of back to back threes from Jeff Roberson and Riley LaChance. Florida needed a layup from Chris Chiozza with :49 left on the clock to finally secure a game in which they led by a 2:1 ratio at halftime- not good by any measure.
But a win is better than the alternative, and there were some signs of improvement despite the near cataclysmic collapse. Florida plugged the lanes better than it has all season, and limited itself to just five turnovers- the fewest in any game this season. The Gators also blocked ten shots, four of which came from Kevarrius Hayes and three more from Keith Stone.
And after weeks of looking nothing like the team it was projected to be in the offseason and early in the year, it’s promising to see the Gators at least play some pockets of a game like that team it was hoped and expected to be.