ATLANTA – Vanderbilt’s Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins made a dent Friday night against Mississippi State, when they combined for nearly 50 points.
The duo couldn’t quite repeat the performance Saturday. So Florida’s guard tandem gladly took the stage.
Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker scored 33 of their combined 41 points after halftime and rallied the 12th-ranked Gators past the Commodores for a 77-66 victory in a Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinal in front of 21,728 at the Georgia Dome.
Vanderbilt (23-10) now waits to hear where it will end up in the NCAA Tournament after suffering its third loss of the season to Florida. The Gators (26-6) advance to play No. 15 Kentucky (24-8) in the championship game at noon on Sunday.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli said. “They just played hard. I mean, they didn’t play harder they just came up with better plays than us toward the end of the game.”
In the first half, Vanderbilt played much better defense than it did a week earlier when Florida cruised to an 86-76 victory in Nashville in the both teams’ regular-season finale. This time the Commodores forced the Gators into 11 turnovers, which resulted in 18 points and helped them to a 36-28 halftime lead.
Their biggest advantage was 40-28, with 18:50 remaining in the game. However, the Gators started to get some penetration inside and Walker, who was scoreless at halftime, scored nine straight Florida points to cut the deficit to one. Chandler Parsons’ driving layup with 10:50 left gave Florida a 51-50 lead, its first of the game.
The Gators didn’t trail by more than two after that and took the lead for good when Boynton drained a 3-pointer for a 60-57 edge with six minutes left.
Boynton and Walker combined for 17 consecutive points to turn a one-point deficit into a nine-point lead with 1:45 remaining. Boynton made five 3-pointers and finished with 24 points. Walker had 17, connecting on three from long range.
“I think in the second half they just got some open looks and anytime scorers like that get some open looks, get some shots down, their confidence rises and they play better,” Vanderbilt guard Brad Tinsley said.
The Commodores shot just 29 percent (9-of-31) i the second half. For the game they were 6-of-33 on 3-point shots. That was the most 3-pointers they have attempted all season and many came early in the shot clock.
“A big part of our offense is definitely 3s,” Vanderbilt forward Lance Goulbourne said. “I didn’t even realize we shot that many. But that is definitely part of our game so they are definitely going to go up. We just weren’t hitting them [Saturday]. If those go down, we can easily win this game.”
After scoring 29 points despite a toe injury against Mississippi State on Friday, Jenkins had just 10 versus Florida. He was 3-of-15 from the field, including 2-of-12 from 3-point range.
After he missed a contested 3-pointer with less than four minutes left, Walker went down the floor and made one of his own for a 68-61 Gators' advantage. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings called a timeout, said something to Jenkins and then the SEC’s leading scorer sat on the bench for nearly three minutes.
“It hurts but I have to let it go and think about the next game,” Jenkins said of not playing at the end.
“I think he was just rushing,” Stallings said. “I think he was rushing to get them off, and the more he missed the more he rushed, the more he fell backwards. He just did not have a good day. I should have been able to help him more than I helped him today, because I never did get him to where he was really on task with what he needed to be doing to be successful. He was pressing, and then it started affecting his defense, unfortunately.”
Taylor finished with 21 points and has scored at least 20 in three straight. Ezeli added 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting and Goulbourne grabbed 12 rebounds.
Vanderbilt’s bench didn’t muster a point, while Florida got 13 from its reserves. But the Gators' starting five did most of the damage with the SEC’s player of the year, Parsons, scoring 16 points.
In the end, though, Walker and Boynton did just what Taylor and Jenkins did the night before and took over. They made reverse layups, contested and open 3-pointers and got to the foul line.
“They hit some tough ones to where we were there and they just made shots,” Stallings said. “So they executed their plays, they came off ball screens and were able to turn the corner a couple of times. There was a variety of ways. There wasn't any one thing that caused it. They just got going and got feeling it and we couldn't get them shut off.”
• The Commodores are 0-4 in tournament semifinals since the league expanded to two divisions in 1992. After reaching the semis for second straight season, they missed a chance at reaching their first championship since 1951, when they won their only tournament title.
• When Taylor scores 15 points are more, Vanderbilt is 17-3. Two of those losses have been against Florida.
The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 18.3 points over his last six games.
“It helps being consistent,” Taylor said. “When you don’t play consistently well, obviously you can start questioning some things sometimes. For me, it’s been really focusing on the things which I can control, which is my own aggressiveness. And when I’m aggressive, there is really not a lot of people that can stay in front of me.”
• Goulbourne finished with double-digit rebounds for the eighth time this season. For the third straight game he wore a wrap on his left hand that covered his thumb and wrist.
Goulbourne was diagnosed with staph infection last week. It started in his thumb, which look bruised afterwards when he had the covering off.
“It spread through my arm. It started in my finger so they had to drain it so that was one of the reasons I had to cover it to make sure it didn’t spread,” Goulbourne said. “It is fine. ... It is just an infection right here [pointing to thumb]. It is good now.”
• After the 11 turnovers in the first half, Florida committed just one in the second half. Vanderbilt had five of its six turnovers after halftime, which the Gators converted into 10 points.
• In the other semifinal on Saturday, Kentucky had five players score in double-digits as the Wildcats avenged a regular-season loss to Alabama with a 72-58 victory.
The Wildcats led by as many as 26 points in the second half and were led by 15 points from Doron Lamb. But Lamb went down late in the second half with a left ankle injury and is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s matchup against Florida.
DeAndre Liggins also went out late with a foot injury but is expected to play on Sunday. He finished with 14 points as did Josh Harrellson, who grabbed 10 rebounds. Alabama’s Tony Mitchell scored 16.