This loss was disastrous to Vanderbilt's NCAA tournament hopes. The bare minimum that the Commodores must do at this point to enter the tournament field is to accomplish one of the following three things. First, they could win the rest of their regular season games and one SEC tournament game. Another route would be to go 4-1 the rest of the way (finishing at 8-8) and to win two or more SEC tournament games. As the method of last resort, the Commodores could do things the hard way by winning the SEC tournament outright. The picture would clearly be much brighter had the Commodores, who were three point underdogs in the game, managed to pull out a victory over the #7 Florida Gators.
However, despite the probability of ending the season in the NIT, this program is up a bit from the rock-bottom low of losing at home to South Carolina and Georgia. The effort and heart that would have certainly won those two games for Vanderbilt is now showing itself, even though it now seems too late.
Coach Stallings commented on this after the game. "I thought our guys had an "A" effort tonight, but not an "A" performance. Florida had a lot to do with that… the effort is unquestioned. But, against them, you have to play hard and you have to play well." An "A" effort in Vanderbilt's other two home SEC losses this season would have been enough, but the Commodores have put those games in the past and moved on.
"We've been behind the eight ball since we gave that game away against South Carolina… but it's not going to effect how we prepare or how we play," said Stallings. Memorial was full of loud and enthusiastic fans who have been given new reason to believe in the team and enjoy the games – constant effort and emotion from the players.
Another area of improvement was in the team's post play. Julian Terrell had a huge performance, with 18 points and 9 rebounds in 29 minutes of play. DeMarre Carroll added another 11 points and 6 boards. Together with Davis Nwankwo, their 31 point, 18 rebound performance was enough to match Florida's combination of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Chris Richard, who combined for 24 points and 16 rebounds.
Vanderbilt was also not outmatched from the three-point line. While Corey Brewer was on fire for the Gators – shooting 5-for-6 from the arc – Taurean Green had one of his worst performances ever, making 0 of his 6 three point attempts. Overall, the Gators were 7-for-20 while the Commodores were 7-for-22.
Even transition baskets were about even in this game. Vanderbilt had 5 more points off turnovers than Florida had, while Florida had four more "fast break points." That four point margin is not enough to explain why the Gators held on to win by five.
Two of the decisive factors were freethrow shooting and guards' rebounding. Ignoring "team rebounds", 75% of Vanderbilt's rebounds were pulled down by pure post players – Carroll, Terrell and Nwankwo. For comparison, less than 50% of the Gators' rebounds were gathered by their post trio. Corey Brewer pulled in 8 rebounds to lead Florida's perimeter players. Green, Hodge, Humphrey, and Huertas added 8 more. Vanderbilt's perimeter players – Foster, Gordon, Byars, and Cage – combined for 6 rebounds. This is a huge disparity. Florida's perimeter players outrebounded their Vanderbilt counterparts by 10. This contributed to an overall Florida rebounding margin of +6, despite the fact that Vanderbilt missed five more shots than Florida did.
Freethrow shooting was another point of frustration. Vanderbilt attempted five more freethrows than Florida. However, while the Commodores shot 13-of-22 (59.1%), Florida made 14-of-17 (82.4%). Vanderbilt visited the line more often, but got fewer points out of it than did Billy Donovan's Gators. Notably, Julian Terrell was 6-of-11 from the line, and DeMarre Carroll was 1-of-4. At least four of these missed freethrows came down the stretch, as Vanderbilt managed to close the Florida lead from 11 down to 3. A few more freethrows made could have turned the tide in this game.
Julian Terrell regretted the freethrow woes after the game: "We work on free throws every day in practice… [the free throw issue] is just something that happened tonight." However, Terrell's ability to draw fouls and earn 11 freethrow attempts contributed greatly towards what was arguably his best performance of the season. "We're not going to back down just because they're bigger than us, or more "athletic,"" said Terrell. Julian's unwillingness to back down is just one aspect of his admirable character, which every Vanderbilt basketball fan will miss in the coming years.
However, there was an aspect of the game that cost Vanderbilt more than the rebounding or the free-throw shooting. On a rare "off" night for Derrick Byars (6 points on 2-for-7 shooting), there was nobody to pick up the slack. Vanderbilt's bench is thinner than it has been in years: Dan Cage played 21 minutes, Davis Nwaknwo played 15, and Ted Skuchas played 1. These three players contributed a total of two points to Vanderbilt's efforts. Besides Byars, each of the other starters scored in double figures. Florida's attack was much more balanced, with 15 bench points and only 2 players in double figures.
Only the "true believers" still hold out hope for an NCAA appearance. At least one departing senior can be counted in that group. However, if there is to be any hope whatsoever, Coach Stallings and company must drive these points home to the Commdoores:
Our guards and wing players must do a better job of boxing out and rebounding.
Our post players must make their freethrows more consistently.
Our team cannot afford another "off" night.
Our playoffs start today.