NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Florida Gators’ road woes continue. Adjusting to playing without forward Will Yeguete may be posing some problems too.
The nation’s best 3-point shooting team found itself outshot almost singlehandedly by John Jenkins, and No. 16 Florida lost 77-67 to Vanderbilt on Tuesday night.
Florida coach Billy Donovan said he felt better walking out of Memorial Gym than he did leaving Athens after a 76-62 loss at Georgia last Saturday. Donovan’s still trying to figure out how his Gators let Jenkins get open enough to hit six 3-pointers and finish 7 of 10 from the field overall for 22 points.
“We had a couple breakdowns,” Donovan said. “We’re in a zone a couple times and let Jenkins get loose, which was really uncalled for because it’s not that hard to locate where the guy’s at. And we lost him a couple times, and there were a couple plays where an offensive rebound got thrown back out to him.”
Donovan saw his Gators possibly forget where to be and find themselves in the wrong spot.
“All of a sudden, he’s left open because some guy’s trying to run instead of just staying on him. In that scenario, we’ve just got to get better,” Donovan said.
With the loss, the Gators (22-8, 10-5) fell into a tie for second with Vanderbilt (21-9, 10-5) in the Southeastern Conference. The Gators are 4-4 on the road in league play, but they can clinch second to themselves with a win over No. 1 Kentucky on Sunday in Gainesville.
“We knew they ran a lot of screens for him,” Florida guard Bradley Beal said of Jenkins. “He comes off screens like non-stop. He’s like Ray Allen, he’s always coming off another screen and another screen and another screen. He’s a terrific shooter, and he got hot tonight.”
Jeffery Taylor added 18 points, and Festus Ezeli had 11 for the Commodores.
Vanderbilt snapped a four-game losing streak to the Gators and can finish no worse than fourth in the SEC going into its finale Saturday at Tennessee. Second place would be best.
“Oh, no doubt that’d be great,” Jenkins said. “We have to focus on Tennessee coming up.”
Beal finished with 16 points, Erving Walker 15 and Kenny Boynton 11 for Florida.
“I thought we competed,” Donovan said of the difference in the two losses since Yeguete broke his left foot. “I thought we played hard against a very good team. With the injuries, there needs to be a resiliency and maturity to fight through that stuff.”
The Commodores got off to an emotional start minutes after honoring seven seniors, four of them starters including Taylor and Ezeli, whose parents made the 20-hour flight from Nigeria to watch. They led for the first 30 minutes until Casey Prather dunked on a fast break to give the Gators their first lead of the game, 50-49 with 10:32 left.
The teams swapped the lead on the next five possessions, and Florida last led on a 3-pointer by Erik Murphy.
Taylor answered with a 3 from the left corner with 9:48 left, and Vanderbilt never trailed again even though the Gators didn’t go away easily.
They twice got within a point, the last time on a 3-pointer by Beal with 5:41 left. Taylor hit his fourth 3, then Vandy made 12 of 14 at the free throw line over the final 5:04.
“We were just determined not to let this one slip away,” Taylor said. “This game had a lot of significance for us, but also for us as a team. I mean it’s really a nice signature win going into March. I think this one will really count for us with the NCAA tournament getting a seed and everything.”
Florida hurt Vanderbilt over and over with its press, forcing 12 turnovers the Gators turned into 17 points to keep the Commodores from running away from them. But the Commodores, who attempted only three free throws in the first half, did a better job of driving to the basket in the second and wound up outshooting Florida at the line 19 of 26 to 7 of 11.
They opened by hitting their first three shots and seemed ready to rout Florida in front of a sold-out crowd at Memorial Gym in taking a 10-2 lead. Florida missed five of its first six shots, including its first three attempts beyond the arc.
By the time Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer, hit his first basket, a 3, and Ezeli added a layup, Vanderbilt had its biggest lead yet at 19-7 with 10:55 left.
Then the Commodores went cold, something they have struggled with this season, and this drought lasted nearly 5 minutes. Kedren Johnson hit a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired with Stallings stomping his foot on the other end for a 22-14 lead with 5:58 left.
The Gators managed to tie it at 27 on Scottie Wilbekin’s 3 only to watch Taylor answer with a 3 for a 30-27 halftime lead.