Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators complete shocking late comeback at Vanderbilt

By Adam Silverstein
March 1, 2022
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators complete shocking late comeback at Vanderbilt

The Florida Gators’ hopes to earn a berth to the 2022 NCAA Tournament, and perhaps head coach Mike White’s job security, appeared to be fading fast Tuesday night against the Vanderbilt Commodores when the program offered one of its most shocking comebacks to save their season. Rallying from eight points down with 3:50 to play, the Gators ended the game on a 14-2 run to beat the ‘Dores at Memorial Gym.

The victory was Florida’s ninth straight over Vanderbilt, a mark that includes five consecutive wins on the road in Nashville, Tennessee. This despite the ‘Dores hitting a season-high 15 shots from downtown in as impressive a shooting performance as the Gators have been forced to combat this campaign.

There were still significant concerns for Florida in this game, namely the lacking, inconsistent defense that has plagued it all season. Nevertheless, the Gators came through when it counted to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive with one game left in the regular season.

What went down on Tuesday night in a must-win game for Florida? Let’s take a look at some Fastbreak Takeaways.

It was over when … senior forward Colin Castleton drained two free throws with 0.4 seconds left to extend Florida’s lead to four points. Castleton’s gimmies came on the back of Vanderbilt star Scottie Pippen Jr. stunningly missing the front end of a one-and-one that could have tied the game had he made both attempts. The ‘Dores faced a deficit in the final moments after senior guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. drained an incredible go-ahead 3-pointer to put the Gators up 80-78 with 6 seconds to play.

Consecutive triples by Pippen kicked off a 15-0 run that pushed Vanderbilt ahead nine before Florida ended a 4:13 scoring drought midway through the period. The Gators bounced back with a 10-3 stretch, also including two triples, to cut their deficit to two with 6:29 left; however, Pippen drained another trey to begin a 6-0 run that pushed the ‘Dores up a game-high eight with less than 4 minutes to play. It looked like the game was over.

Instead, Florida authored an absurd 14-2 scoring stretch over the final 3:39 as Vanderbilt missed 3 of 4 shots with a turnover to end the game. Fleming’s triple was massive, but he made a second significant play down the stretch when he completed a chase down block to stop a Vandy layup that would have put the game out of reach.

UF immediately cut its deficit to 78-77 with a layup on the other end as 21 seconds remained. After the basket and a timeout, VU rolled its inbounds pass out of bounds. That allowed the clock to remain at 19 seconds, giving the Gators an opportunity to patiently execute their penultimate possession that ultimately led to Fleming’s go-ahead trey.

First half focus: Florida hit 4 of 5 triples to open the game, taking a 16-8 lead as Vanderbilt focused its offensive attention beyond the arc. That paid off for the ‘Dores, which hit three straight for a 9-0 run to take their first lead, though the Gators quickly answered with a 7-0 run to retake the advantage, which they held through the end of the period. UF took a four-point edge into the locker rooms as the teams each shot 50% from downtown, combining to go 14 of 28.

Exceptional efforts: While he was not the leading scorer, Fleming came through for the Gators when it mattered the most. He hit 5 of 10 shots and 2 of 4 triples for 16 points, hitting all four of his free throws while adding six assists and four rebounds. Fleming has been tremendous the last two games, combining to score 43 points while hitting 6 of 13 treys.

Castleton was that leading scorer Tuesday with 19 points, but he struggled hitting just 6 of 15 shots despite adding eight boards; however, he went 7 of 8 from the line and hit 5 of 6 clutch gimmies over the final 3:39. Seniors point guard Tyree Appleby and Myron Jones were also efficient, combining for 25 points and six 3s in the game. Appleby is now 16 of 33 (.485) from downtown over his last four games.

Pippen was tremendous for Vandy, scoring a game-high 29 points by hitting 5 of 7 treys with five dimes and three boards.

Odds and ends: Florida improved to 73-71 all-time against Vanderbilt, 21-48 on the road and 10-6 overall under White … the Gators have now won nine straight games against the ‘Dores, their longest streak against any SEC opponent … UF outscored VU 20-6 off turnovers and 32-24 in the paint despite losing the rebounding battle 25-29 … while Florida led for 25:31, it trailed for 12:26 of the final 12:32 in the second half … despite the ‘Dores making a season-high 15 treys and shooting 51.7% from long range, the Gators shot a season-best 47.6% from downtown (10 of 21) … the Gators improved to 9-0 this season and 63-3 under White when scoring 80+ points, while they got a rare win when allowing 70+, moving to 4-8 this season and 38-57 under White

What it means: At least for the moment, Florida picked up a key Quadrant 1 road win over Vanderbilt, the No. 74 NET team. That will surely change to a Quadrant 2 win in the morning, but it was nevertheless a necessary victory for the Gators’ NCAA Tournament chances. This does not bounce UF off the bubble and into the tourney, though it does improve its chances. Most believe Florida still needs a win in its regular-season finale to clinch a spot in the field, though it is possible a close loss coupled with a strong performance in the SEC Tournament could get UF a spot in the First Four. Simply put, as nice as the comeback may have been to watch, the Gators still have their backs against the wall given they are 3-3 in their last six games.

What’s next? Florida wraps up the regular season with one of its biggest games of the entire campaign when it hosts No. 7 Kentucky on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET in a game that will air live nationally on CBS. This is a must-win game for the Gators against a Wildcats team that beat it by 21 points back on Feb. 12.

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