Gators' free-throw shooting dooms Dores, 81-71

GAINESVILLE, Fla.-- In a battle between two teams struggling to stay afloat in the SEC East, Florida's Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson scored 25 points each to lead the No. 21 Gators to an 81-71 win over Vanderbilt Saturday at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. The win snapped a two-game losing streak for Florida, and extended Vandy's SEC road losing streak to 13 games.

GAINESVILLE, Fla.-- In a battle between two teams struggling to stay afloat in the SEC East, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson scored 25 points each to lead No. 21 Florida to an 81-71 win over Vanderbilt Saturday at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. The win snapped a two-game losing streak for Florida, and extended Vandy's SEC road losing streak to 13 games.

Vandy kept things interesting throughout the second half, and weathered a number of runs from the hot-shooting Gators. But the Commodores were unable to overcome Florida's brilliant 35-of-39 shooting performance from the free-throw line, including a perfect 14-of-14 from Walsh.

Vanderbilt shot a blistering 54% from the floor in the first half and trailed only 33-30 at halftime. With the Gators not pressing and running nearly as much as usual, the game's slower pace seemed to favor Vanderbilt.

The Commodores came out sluggish early in the second half, and Billy Donovan's Gators raced to a 46-34 lead behind three straight 3-pointers from Roberson.

"Anthony Roberson got off there at the beginning of the second half and kind of stretched the lead out," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings, "and it was difficult from that point to get back. We never had control of the game after that. We got back in range, but never got in control of it again."

Vandy cut it back to 57-54 with 4:48 left, and trailed only 74-69 with 45 seconds left after Mario Moore hit a pair of free throws. Moore also hit a 10-footer with 23 seconds left to cut it to 76-71.

But Florida, coming off a discouraging home loss to Kentucky in which it had given up an 11-point second-half lead, held on this time behind rock-solid free throw shooting down the stretch. The Gators' win avenged an 86-72 loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville on Jan. 17.

"The team showed great heart and great toughness tonight," said Gator head coach Billy Donovan. "I was very happy with our leadership from Walsh and Roberson down the stretch. We talked in the huddle about taking the game down the stretch and I thought we did that."

In contrast to Florida, Vanderbilt struggled from the free throw line, connecting on just 11-of-20 for 55%. Missed free throws also plagued the Commodores in recent losses to Arkansas and South Carolina.

"I'm disappointed in that," Stallings said. "I don't understand it. There's a little bit of a mental toughness that goes along with making free throws on the road. We aren't stepping up and making them, and it's hurting us. If it doesn't get worked out, we're not going to be very successful on the road."

Matt Freije led Vandy in scoring with 18 points, followed by Moore's 16. Russell Lakey, who turned in a stellar performance off the bench by repeatedly breaking down the Gator defense with dribble penetration, finished with 6 points and 6 assists.

The Commodores, ranked No. 25 in the ESPN/Coaches poll, fell to 14-5 overall and finished up the first half of the SEC schedule 3-5. The Gators improved to 14-6, 5-4.

The Commodores return home Wednesday evening for a regionally televised matchup vs. Georgia. Dennis Felton's Bulldogs (11-9, 3-6 SEC) fell to Auburn on the road Saturday, 57-54.

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GAME NOTES:

Kevin Stallings failed in a bid for the 200th coaching win of his career. His career record now stands at 199-127.

The Commodores started David Przybyszewski and Scott Hundley in place of usual starters Corey Smith and Julian Terrell. Przybyszewski added 11 points and 6 rebounds for Vandy, while Hundley had 7 points.

Corey Smith returned to action after serving a one-game suspension for fighting in a Jan. 28 game vs. South Carolina. Though he didn't start, the junior contributed 5 points and 3 rebounds before fouling out with 0:54 left in the game.

Photos by Phil Sandlin, Associated Press.


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