Unlike the loss in Gainesville the second half started with the Vanderbilt score. Ross Neltner's lay-up put Vanderbilt up 37-27 just seconds into the final half. Neltner later made a 3-point shot to give Vanderbilt's a 46-33 with 15:17 remaining. Foul shots by Al Hortford cut the Commodore lead to 6 at 46-40 with 14:08 remaining but a 3-point play by Foster put the Commodore lead back up to 9 with just under 14 minutes remaining. Vanderbilt built its lead to 15 with 3:18 remaining at 76-61 and fans began to smell an upset. The lead grew to 16 with 1:52 remaining after Alex Gordon, a Florida native, stole the ball and then drove for a lay-up to give the Commodores an 80-64 lead. The final seconds were uneventful as Florida did not foul and allowed Vanderbilt to run the clock out.
After the final horn a throng delirious Vanderbilt students rushed the floor despite attempts by security personnel to stop them. Florida head coach Billy Donovan quickly got his team off the floor without the usual team handshakes. Donovan commented after the game that he did this for the safety of his players. He said he explained this to Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings after the game.
Vanderbilt's defense forced 22 turnovers from Florida and held the visitors to 11 points under their season points per game average.
It was Vanderbilt's sixth victory over a number ranked one team at Memorial Gym in their history. Vanderbilt earlier defeated Kentucky 75-66 on January 6, 1959; Mississippi State 100-86 on January 13, 1962; Kentucky 85-83 on January 6, 1964; North Carolina 78-76 on December 5, 1987 and Kentucky 101-86 on January 13, 1993. The Vanderbilt and Kentucky programs are tied at six among SEC teams for most number of home wins over number one ranked teams.
A thrilled but reserved Stallings reflected on his team's tough defense after the game, "Our defense was good, our defense was active. We thought we had a good game plan when we were in Gainesville and it kind of unraveled in the second half there. We were able to keep them off the rhythm a bit and honestly, I was a bit concerned that we wouldn't be able to do that. We got on a roll, the crowd was unbelievable. This can be a difficult place to play."
Vanderbilt improves to 18-8 (8-4 SEC). Vanderbilt travels to Mississippi State on Wednesday. Florida falls to 24-3 (11-1 SEC). The Gators host South Carolina on Wednesday.
Photo by Stan Jones
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