Florida outclasses Vanderbilt on Senior Night

NASHVILLE--Kenny Boynton scored a team-high 17 points, highlighted by a 4-for-9 performance from three-point range, to help Florida become outright regular season champions of the Southeastern Conference with an 86-76 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday night.

The Commodores have now lost three of their last four games to end the regular season, while the Gators have won eight of their past nine during a run that started with a 65-61 overtime victory over Vanderbilt in Gainesville.

"They played better in every facet than we did and that's disappointing," said head coach Kevin Stallings. "They have gotten a lot better offensively since the first time we played."

Forward Chandler Parsons added 13 points and teamed up with Boynton to propel the Gators into the lead for good late in the first half. The two scored 11 unanswered points to turn an eight-point deficit into a 29-25 lead for the visitors with 4:58 left to play in the half. That two-man streak was itself part of a 20-5 run Florida used to close out the half, and the Gators took an eight-point lead into the break after an Erving Walker layup with less than 10 seconds to go.

The Commodores withstood an early second-half push by the Gators and responded with a run of their own, cutting an 11-point lead to just one point with 10:48 to play. Freshman Rod Odom had five big points within that stretch, including a jumper from just inside the arc to bring the score to 54-53.

But a key foul call immediately following that crucial sequence appeared to swing the momentum back towards the Gators. After a Scottie Wilbekin layup gave Florida a three-point lead, sophomore John Jenkins drove into the lane, made contact with Parsons and banked in an awkward shot but was called for an offensive foul. An incredulous Stallings approached the officials and was charged with a technical foul. Boynton sunk both technical free throws, and the Gators brought their lead back out to 11 points less than two minutes later.

"That was a turning point, certainly," Stallings said. "For the life of me, I don't think it was the very good call, but I'll watch (the tape). It was a big momentum play, but that is not to say I think we would have won the game."

Festus Ezeli sparked the Vanderbilt offense early on with nine points in the opening 5:24 of game time, including an open dunk after a quick pass in the lane from Brad Tinsley. Ezeli finished with 16 points and shot 8-for-9 from the free-throw line, but Florida big men Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin adjusted to limit the redshirt junior's impact as the Gators pulled away down the stretch.

"In the first half, I was able to make moves and get good position for the first six minutes," said Ezeli. "They realized that I had an advantage, so they adjusted and had a guy on the help side to get me."

Tinsley gave his team its largest lead of the game and ignited the sell-out crowd in Memorial Gymnasium in the first-half with a thunderous dunk over Chandler Parsons to help the Commodores out to a 25-18 lead with 6:47 left to play in the half. The 6-3 guard got Erving Walker to leave his feet on the perimeter and drove around him, rising up over Parsons, who was late in shifting over to help, for his first successful dunk of the season.

Vanderbilt's loss and Alabama's victory over Georgia earlier on Saturday gives the Commodores either the third or fourth seed out of the Eastern Division, pending the outcome of Sunday's game between Kentucky and Tennessee, heading into next weekend's SEC Tournament in Atlanta. If Kentucky wins, Vanderbilt will be the 3-seed and will face LSU out of the SEC West. If Tennessee wins, Vanderbilt will play Arkansas as the 4-seed out of the East.

Amidst all of the seeding uncertainty in an extremely deep division, Saturday's defeat did ensure that Vanderbilt would not receive one of the division's two first-round byes, meaning that the Commodores would need to win games in four straight days to become tournament champions.

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