Gators break trend, top Vanderbilt

Wednesday felt like plenty of Florida’s recent games.

It was close with just a few minutes left, both teams having a chance to win it. With back-to-back one-point losses, the Gators have been in a situation like Wednesday a lot this season.

To make Wednesday even worse, the Gators were without their two leading scorers. Dorian Finney-Smith was suspended for a violation of team rules before the game, and Michael Frazier is still nursing a high ankle sprain. If Florida crumbled down the stretch at the end of the game and lost again, this is the one that would’ve made the most sense with the team being shorthanded.

Instead, the Gators held onto their lead and finished off Vanderbilt 50-47, avoiding a five-game losing streak.

“You’ve got to snap out of that,” said Florida forward Alex Murphy, who had 11 points, when asked about doubt creeping in from recent struggles in close games. “Of course it comes into your mind, but you’ve got to get rid of that quick because the game isn’t over. There was a few times in the last two minutes where the game went back and forth, but we fought and battled.”

Wednesday night’s game isn’t going to be on highlight reels for the advancement of offensive basketball any time soon. The Gators shot 36 percent while Vanderbilt hit 33.3 percent of its shots, and both teams had multiple stretches of more than five minutes without hitting a field goal. Florida shot 23.5 percent (4-17) from behind the three-point line and 50 percent (10-20) from the free throw line.

The Gators have been struggling all season to score. Frazier’s high ankle sprain slowed the offense down even more, and in the first game with Finney-Smith suspended, the offense was awful. There was no kind way for Florida coach Billy Donovan to describe it after the game.

“Offensively, it is an absolute struggle for us,” Donovan said. “A struggle.”

Going with their 12th different starting lineup this season, the Gators scored just 19 points in the first half and bounced back for 31 in the second half. They still shot just 44 percent in the second half, missing open shots. The offense is trying to get going and actually produced more open shots than the stats would suggest, but as has been a frustration for Donovan all year, the Gators just didn’t make them.

“I’m not sure that the shooting nights for both teams are a reflection of both teams’ defenses,” Donovan said. “Both teams struggled to score. Our guys are trying to move the floor, get into the paint. Even when we’re getting decent looks, we’re not making shots.”

They’ll have to find ways to make that shots go down on Saturday against an LSU team with length and shot blocking around the rim. Florida will have to do it without Finney-Smith, who will not play because of the suspension. Donovan said he would reevaluate the suspension on Monday before making a decision about his future.

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