It was the kind of moment that can change a game. And it did.
Vanderbilt’s Brad Tinsley drove off the left wing, took flight and threw down a serious dunk over Florida forward Chandler Parsons. It not only gave the Commodores a seven-point lead with just under seven minutes to play in the first half, it also sent the sellout crowd of 14,316 at Memorial Gymnasium into a full-blown frenzy.
Oh, and there was one other thing. Somehow, it sparked the No. 14 Gators, who already had clinched first place in the SEC’s Eastern Division and were in search of the outright conference title.
Sixteen of the next 18 points were Florida’s and in a little more than four minutes the seven-point Vanderbilt lead became a seven-point deficit (34-27). The 21st-ranked Commodores responded a couple times but never full recovered or led again and ended the regular season with an 86-76 defeat Saturday.
“I think that’s why they’re the league champion,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “They understand how to deal with that. They’re not fazed by that. Big deal, a guy dunked. It counts as two points.
“… Some teams would let that affect them. They’re team doesn’t.”
Nothing else the Commodores (21-9, 9-7 in the SEC) did made much of an impact either.
Led by John Jenkins’ game-high 22 points, VU shot 59.2 percent from the field (24-for-49) and missed just nine shots in the second half.
Florida (24-6, 13-3) made just as many shots overall (29) but shot just under 50 percent. The difference was that it continually adapted its attack to whatever changes Vanderbilt made on defense.
All five Gators’ starters scored between 13 and 17 points led by Nick Boynton’s 17. The approach of their perimeter players was to attack Tinsley and Jenkins while whoever was guarded by Jeffery Taylor made an extra pass.
“They shot such a high percentage against us, but it seemed like the shots that they made we were able to absorb because we had a lead,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “It seemed like our shots were timely shots.”
The Commodores made repeated runs throughout the second half and even closed to within one (54-53) with just under 11 minutes remaining. Every time, the Gators responded with a run of their and pushed their lead to 13 in response to three different threats.
It also didn’t hurt that when they missed, they chased down a lot of loose balls. Vanderbilt allowed Florida to collect 15 offensive rebounds and collected just three of its own. The difference in second-chance points was 15-2 in favor of the Gators.
“It seemed like they had seven guys on the boards and we had three … maybe we had three,” Stallings said. “We might have had two and a half.”
They undoubtedly had a lot going for them – momentum, the lead, an excited crowd – at the moment Tinsley threw down his dunk (one of only two baskets he made in the contest). Once all that was gone – and it went quickly – most of it stayed gone, particularly the lead..
“It seemed like we just kind of relaxed at that point,” Taylor said. “They started fighting back and we could never come up with an answer. After that, they kind of had … a comfortable eight to 10-point lead throughout the game.”
What a change.
• Vanderbilt is now assured to play on the first day (Thursday) of the SEC tournament, which is in Atlanta. Pending the outcome of Sunday’s game between Kentucky and Tennessee, the Commodores will be either the third or fourth seed from the East.
If Kentucky wins, Vanderbilt will be No. 3 based on a tiebreaker with Georgia. If Tennessee wins, the Commodores will be No. 4 based on tiebreakers between each of those four schools.