First half shooting woes doom Gators at Vandy 60-59

An early injury to junior forward Justin Leon and woeful shooting in the first half were enough to derail the efforts of Florida’s (13-7, 5-3) comeback as they fall to Vanderbilt (12-8, 4-4) 60-59 in Nashville, Tennessee Tuesday night.

The hustle that Leon has showed as of late and his ability to be a difference maker from beyond the 3-point line were both lost when he went down with concussion symptoms just three minutes into the contest. An inadvertent elbow from Vanderbilt forward Luke Kornet sent Leon to the floor where he had to be helped off and wouldn’t return.

The Gators would really struggle in the first half from the 3-point line going 0-10 from the arc, and then foul trouble limited the time on the court for sophomore center John Egbunu to just 23 minutes against a team that starts two 7-footers.

“Foul trouble killed us, giving up 33 free throw attempts killed us,” Mike White said on the Gators’ IMG Network show after the game. “Justin Leon going out… we had a lot of adversity tonight with the concussion. Obviously, we hope the best for him and hope we can get him back soon.

Vanderbilt showed up playing hard defensively from the outset. It was a rough and tumble game inside and the Commodores weren’t giving up much. White gave the Commodores credit instead of blaming the bad offensive play on losing Leon.

“We don’t want to make any excuses,” he said. “We have plenty of players. We have 13 scholarships that we use. We had some looks. We were facing a really good defensive team who I thought played really well defensively in their building. They played with a chip on their shoulder. They were back at home coming off of a tough loss. Tip your hat to those guys. Luke Kornet was as good defensively as anyone we have faced this year.”

Kornet is the 7-foot junior forward who finished with only four points, but he had nine rebounds, a steal, and six blocked shots. Guard Wade Baldwin and center Damian Jones combined to 17-25 from the free throw line, making seven more shots than the Gators even took on the night.

While giving credit to Vanderbilt for causing miscues, White pointed out if they just limited the mistakes to a reasonable amount, the Gators likely walk out of Memorial gym with a victory.

“We had foul line block outs that we messed up and didn’t take advantage of blocking out correctly and defending our glass,” White said. “Off the top of my head, the other big issue in the first half we had two miscommunications that led to two three’s for those guys.

“Those mistakes, Justin being out, a couple of silly fouls that led to four free throws. We weren’t able to overcome Vandy’s defensive effort with those miscues. I thought Vandy was terrific defensively.”

Florida played hard the entire contest. Effort has rarely been the issue with this group of Gators. Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith finished with his fourth double-double in a row registering 12 points and 14 rebounds. Florida guard Kasey Hill and KeVaughn Allen both scored 16 on the night. Allen was 6-12 from the field and 3-4 from the 3-point line. Hill was just 7-17 from the field missing on a few layups but did make 2-5 from the arc. The Gators spotty shooting was a killer hitting just 23-70 shots for 32.9%

Outside of Hill, the Gator bench didn’t contribute much. The rest of the roster on the bench combined to go 0-10 in the game.

Vanderbilt was led by Baldwin and his free throw. He amassed 24 points in the game. Center Damian Jones pulled down 12 rebounds and also scored 20 points. He was a huge force in the paint early before the Gators made a change defensively to slow him down.

This Gator team showed again that it wouldn’t quit, trailing by 11 at the half and as much as 14 with six minutes gone in the second half.

“I’m disappointed in the miscues, especially in the first half,” White said. “And then the foul line block outs and ball screen coverage down the stretch. Did we play hard down the stretch? Yes we did. We kept competing. I thought our pressure fully influenced the game. To come in and force 19 turnovers against a team that executes as well as they do shows that we left a lot out on the floor and gave ourselves a chance late.

“The message to the team continues to be: You lose the game by one point and out of those 10 to 15 miscues, if you limit those to 6 or 8, you come out of here with a huge win. There’s a little bit of positive to take from it and a lot of things we can learn from.”



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