Vanderbilt had to counter Florida’s hot shooting when the teams squared off Saturday. But how?
With steady doses of 6-foot-10, 250-pound center A.J. Ogilvy. The junior scored eight of his 16 second-half points in the first three minutes after intermission, allowed the Commodores to grab a 95-87 victory in a back-and-forth Southeastern Conference opener at Memorial Gymnasium.
It was the sixth straight victory for Vanderbilt as Ogilvy finished with 24 points and eight rebounds to lead the Commodores (12-3, 1-0). It also was a rare victory against Florida, which was 10-3 in its last 13 games against Vanderbilt.
“I went out there with a more aggressive mentality,” said Ogilvy, who scored just four points in a 94-69 home loss to Florida a year ago. “They were able to get me the ball and putting it inside worked for us. It’s important for us to hold home court in this league. We’ve talked about protecting our house and it was huge for us to hold Florida off.”
Florida, which led by as many as seven points on three different occasions in the first half, pushed its lead to 46-42 with an Alex Tyus jumper just 17 seconds into the second half. That’s when Ogilvy got going. He was 3-for-3 from the field and scored eight points, including two dunks inside, over the next two and a half minutes to give the Commodores a 50-48 lead with 17:26 left.
“It raises the confidence level of everyone,” Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said of Ogilvy’s play. “But when your marquee guys start to play big, it gets everyone going.”
Florida (11-4, 0-1) then grabbed its last lead (53-52) on a bucket from Kenny Boynton with 15:58 left.
Festus Ezeli’s basket inside with 14:35 remaining was the start of a 6-0 run for the Commodores. Florida cut the lead to 60-59 with 11:34 left but never got closer than that.
Thanks to a John Jenkins’ 3-pointer, a nifty one-handed putback by Andre Walker and a drive inside by Jermaine Beal, Vanderbilt answered with a 7-0 run for a 67-59 lead with 10:13 remaining. Vanderbilt answered each Florida spurt — capped off by a Jeffery Taylor steal and dunk for a commanding 83-73 lead with 3:28 to go.
It was a microcosm of two big strengths in the game for Vanderbilt — points off of turnovers and points in the paint. The Commodores scored 20 points off 14 Florida turnovers, while the Gators could muster only eight points off seven Vanderbilt miscues. The Commodores also outscored Florida 40-22 inside.
“We had a lack of communication on our defense. They just capitalized on it,” Boynton said. “When they needed points they scored.”
The Gators came into Saturday’s game shooting 29 percent from 3-point range. But, just like last year at Vanderbilt when it shot 60 percent from 3-point range, Florida had no problem early on lighting it up from beyond the arc — going 8-for-14 in the first half.
“They were making everything,” said Beal, who finished with 22 points. “In the second half, they were still making shots. But we were able to get stops and make rebounds.”
Florida finished shooting 48.1 percent (13-for-27) from 3-point range but of its five 3-pointers in the second half, four came in the last 2:30 when the Gators were trying to rally from 10 points down. Florida’s Boynton finished with a career-high 28 points and Erving Walker added 22, also a career-high.
For Vanderbilt, Taylor matched his scoring average with 14 points and Jenkins scored 13 points off the bench.
• Redshirt sophomore Andre Walker filled up the stat sheet quite nicely. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward had a career-high seven assists to go along with 10 rebounds, eight points, three steals and just one turnover.
He proved to be trouble for Florida’s big men, part of the reason the 6-foot-10 Vernon Macklin and 6-9 Erik Murphy fouled out with six minutes left for Florida.
“He’s a glue guy,” Stallings said of Walker. “That’s who he is. He’s an excellent defender, an excellent rebounder and a really, really good passer. He was really, really good.”
• Vanderbilt blocked four more shots Saturday for 89 total on the year. The Commodores had blocked 10 in their three previous games and are on pace to break the school record of 137, which last year’s team set.
• The Commodores had given up fewer than 30 points in six straight halves before Saturday. Florida snapped that streak with 44 points on 55.2 percent (16-for-29) shooting in the first half.