NASHVILLE-- It was a cold and snowy night in Nashville... Vanderbilt was riding a four-game losing streak, and No. 7 Florida had come to town playing its typical NCAA-caliber style of run-and-gun. The game had all the makings of a blowout... right?
Au contraire... the 13,117 Memorial Gym patrons got their money's worth and more, as the two teams served up an old-fashioned SEC thriller. Vanderbilt nearly pulled off its third upset of a top-ranked opponent, only to fall in overtime to Billy Donovan's Gators in heartbreaking fashion.
The Dores came out fighting from the opening tip, although for the first ten minutes the game was a defensive struggle. When Matt Freije sank two free throws at the 9:59 mark in the first half, Vandy trailed 14-11. The next ten minutes saw far more offense for Vandy, led by nearly-forgotten David Przybyszewski. The big man from Poland dropped in 12 points in the opening stanza, including two 3-pointers and a slam-dunk off a missed shot.
Mario Moore also contributed a couple of 3-pointers in the first half to ignite the offense. Matt Freije, though constantly looking at double teams throughout the first half, nonetheless was in double figures at halftime, thanks mostly to numerous trips to the charity line. Vandy headed into the locker room holding a 31-29 lead over the favored Gators, and the fans were loud in their appreciation for the Dores' effort.
Florida opened the second half with an 8-1 run and looked to slam the door on Vandy. But give Kevin Stallings' team credit-- with little to play for at this point in the season, the Commodores played with grit, drive and a toughness that kept them in the game throughout. Whenever Florida made a run, Vanderbilt answered.
For several tense minutes it was the "Matt & Matt Show"-- Florida's Bonner would score at one end, and Vandy's Freije would match it at the other. Bonner finished with 17 points, all in the second half; Freije finished with 24 points and 5 rebounds.
Needless to say, the last five minutes went back and forth. Realistically, Vanderbilt had a chance to put the game away, but Brian Thornton missed a 3-foot putback of a Mario Moore 3-pointer that would have sealed the game with under 30 seconds left to go. A missed Corey Smith heave at the buzzer left the score 66-66 at the end of regulation.
In overtime it was back and forth, but a late 3-pointer by Anthony Roberson gave the Gators the lead for good with 18.3 seconds left to go. Matt Walsh sank two free throws after a Vanderbilt turnover with 4.4 seconds left to go. A last-second 3-point attempt by Przybyszewski bounced off the rim and Florida escaped with the win.
In the press meeting after the game, Coach Stallings said he was proud of the effort the team gave tonight. "If we play with that effort every night we will win games," said the coach. Maybe a bit too little to late, as the Commodores are now 10-13, 3-9 in SEC play.
Asked why David Przybyszewski didn't see more minutes in the second half, Stallings indicated that his defensive effort wasn't what it should have been.
Vanderbilt now looks to Wednesday night's game against Arkansas to break the losing streak.