Gators’ Solid Defensive Game Extinguishes the Commodores

Ken Cross

February 27, 2024 at 8:00 am.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – With only two weeks left in college basketball’s regular season, the No. 24 Florida Gators continued to win on Saturday as they are within two games of Tennessee and Alabama, who are currently tied for first place in the SEC.

Defeating Vanderbilt, 77-64, showed yet another way for Florida to win as the Gators held Vandy to 36 percent from the floor. The Commodores only made 5-of-22 three-point field goal attempts.

The Gators did not allow the Commodores to waken from their tough offensive season where they have only shot 28.6 percent from three (351/CBB) and 46.5 percent from two (316/CBB).

“I thought he did a really good job of keeping it simple for our guys and giving them a great understanding, that important to take away and what we were okay with living with,” explained Florida coach Todd Golden of his assistant John Andrzejek, who was in charge of the Vanderbilt scout. “The three-pointers from their fours were something that we were super focused on not giving up.”

Vanderbilt forward Evan Taylor, who usually starts at the four or power forward position, played 30 minutes and was only allowed three 3-point attempts and made just one. He came into the game making 4.9 per contest as Taylor is the ‘Dores leader in making 44-of-132 threes on the season.

“(Ezra) Manjon and (Tyron) Lawrence, (Ven-Allen) Lubin, those guys are all really talented playmaker scorers,” explained Golden in his analysis of the Commodores. “We wanted to take them away if we could and then limit threes for everybody else. I thought we did a pretty good job of that. You know, with the exception of fouling too much in the second half.”

Florida never trailed as Tyrese Samuel gave the Gators a 12-4 advantage only three minutes into the game. Early, we saw the mismatch of Vandy’s bigs trying to match up with the size and athleticism of Samuel, who finished 7-of-9 from the floor with 15 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes. Samuel was also a ball recipient as the Gators assisted on 17 of their 28 makes.

“Just playing together, that’s an emphasis of ours,” noted Samuel. “When everybody eats, it’s fun to do, so just making sure we make the right reads and stuff like that and just play together.”

The Gators took their biggest lead early in the second half when Clayton had a layup off of an in-bounds pass, then, after Vandy cut the lead to 47-37, the Gators went on a 15-4 run that ended with two free throws by Alex Condon with 9:08 to play.

Once again, the Gator posts showed plenty to improvement as Micah Handlogten was in foul trouble, so Thomas Haugh and Condon had extended minutes.

“The frontcourt depth is a huge part of our success obviously and they’re all unique and really talented in their own ways,” said Golden. “Obviously, what we’ve noticed is whichever two of those four are out there, we’ve been able to keep a pretty consistent pace and keep the score going the right way,” Golden explained.

Richard led with 21 points and Clayton netted 19. Interestingly, Zyon Pullin only scored two, but was a (+25) in his 34 minutes. This showed once again the ability and intelligence of a player who definitely should pull first-team All-SEC consideration.

“He has been over double figures every game and someone that we’ve relied upon to get baskets for us a lot over the season, so for him to only get two and us to still get close to 80, it was really good to see,” said Golden.

The Gators have now won seven out of their last nine and are 11-1 at home, so the improvement and the solid play from throughout the SEC schedule proves they are a tough out in March, whether it be in the SEC Tournament or in their bracket of the NCAA Tournament.

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