Sitting squarely on the bubble, Vanderbilt needed a strong performance today against nationally ranked Florida to push themselves closer to the NCAA Tournament and they received just that.
It might not have been pretty but the job was successful as Vanderbilt came behind to defeat the Gators 73-71 and pick up a season sweep over the 12th ranked team in the country.
The Commodores started strong but quickly cooled off as the Gators defense became stout and would not allow open three point shots by the SEC's top three point shooting team. The entire game actually went this way for Vanderbilt. Florida had a purpose today of not letting Vandy receive open looks from deep and was determined to make the Commodores beat them with two point shots.
Florida played tough ball down the 1st stretch to take a 40-31 lead into the locker room. A last second bank shot from Devin Robinson pushed the Gators lead to nine and had the Vandy faithful wondering if the final 20 minutes of the game would be their last gasp at making the Big Dance.
The second half became a different story for Vanderbilt. A defensive minded approach and a more attacking style offense was the game plan in the 2nd period and it worked to the Commodores favor.
Vanderbilt made an emphasis early in the 2nd half at getting the ball to the basket by the dribble drive. That approach worked as the Dores were able to get the Gators defense to switch on a consistent basis which opened up lanes to the basket.
This offensive game plan gave confidence to the Dores defense. Florida would maintain a second half lead throughout but the spirited effort by Vanderbilt, on both sides of the court, allowed them to stay close with a fighting chance in the end.
The Commodores saw themselves down nine with a little more than seven minutes remaining. This is very the team's new found toughness would come into play.
All three players made great plays driving to the basket while Kornet and LaChance nailed a pair huge three point shots that would eventually tie the game 67-67. Vandy would take the lead with a drive to the basket from the left side of the court by LaChance to put the Commodores up by two and at this point, free throw shooting would be key.
The last minute of the game seemed like an eternity as Florida would keep things within two points while putting the Commodores at the line. Kornet was the main guy at the line for Vandy and he delivered. While he did miss two free throws, he made more than enough to keep the lead on the Dores side.
After two missed free throws from Joe Toye, Florida gathered the rebound and heaved the ball down court, where the ball would hit the top of the backboard and the game would be over.
In a tough, physical game, Vanderbilt showed their muscles and showed their continued progression as a top of the conference basketball program.
The Commodores received memorable senior night performances today from both Kornet and Cressler. The senior center was the player of the game where he posted 24 points, had 6 rebounds and 2 blocks but was also an emotional leader who willed his team to victory. Cressler pushed across 13 points along with 6 rebounds and 3 assists but was huge in the 2nd half with his timely drives to the rim.
Four Commodores finished in double digit scoring. Along with Kornet and Cressler, LaChance had 13 points himself along with being clutch down the final five minutes of the game. Junior Jeff Roberson was also huge for the Commodores. The Houston native played his typical junk man game giving the Dores 15 points along with 6 rebounds while going 5-5 from the field.
It might not have been the prettiest of games but it was a grind out affair that encourages the Vandy faithful going forward. Vanderbilt finished the regular season 17-14 overall, going 10-8 in the SEC while the Gators dropped to 24-7 overall and 14-4 in the SEC.
The Commodores will now focus on the SEC Tournament that begins on Wednesday, however Vanderbilt will not see game action until Thursday. Vanderbilt does not travel far as the SEC Tourney is down the road, inside Bridgestone Arena. The Commodores have been awarded the #7 seed and will tip-off at 6:30 pm Central against the Texas A&M Aggies. Vanderbilt defeated the Aggies twice this season, so A&M could be looking for revenge.