Gators close Dores in stunning road rally win

GAINESVILLE, Florida. – With less than four minutes to play, the Florida Gators made the long walk to their bench after Coach Mike White called a timeout. Vanderbilt had just hit his second straight 3-pointer to take what was a two-point deficit about 90 seconds earlier to an eight-point margin. By then, the Commodores were shooting (get this) 73 percent in the second half and had buried (get this too) 15 of 29 from the arc.

When the Gators entered the group, they immediately started talking and guessing at each other. Nothing productive was said or done. It was when Myreon Jonesbefore the coaches plunge into the fray, yell at his teammates.

“Stop moaning! Jones shouted. “All that matters now is to stop!”

According to witnesses, there was more colorful language mixed in there, but it summed up the situation for a group that, at that time, was facing dire circumstances on the road to the Southeastern Conference, to both short-term and relative to their playoffs. possibilities.

Indeed, the Gators needed saves, but they also needed points. A bunch of them in a hurry, actually.

‘After Myreon yelled at us, everyone locked themselves in’, graduate guard Brandon McKissic noted.

Instead, try 14 of the game’s final 16 points, including the final nine of what has become one of the program’s most unlikely wins in years. It took a series of timely stops and marks to get there, but ultimately the factor that made the difference was the graduate wing Phlandrous Fleming Jr. 3 points with 6.3 seconds left that led to an 82-78 win left the Commodores and Memorial Stadium crowd just as stunned as they were disappointed.

“I’ve been part of a few lunatics before,” White said. “But to score that many so late, you just feel like you stole one because Vandy was fantastic.”

Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (24) fires his 3-point go-ahead on defender Vandy Jordan Wrightas a coach Mike White look son.

Fleming’s bucket of go-ahead came after Florida (19-11, 9-8) forced a turnover under the Vanderbilt basket with 21.9 seconds left. The Commodores (14-15, 6-11) had a chance to tie the game when SEC scoring leader Scottie Pippin Jr., who was spectacular in dropping a game-high 29 points, got advanced to the free throw line with 2.3 seconds and a chance to tie the game, but rebounded the front end of a one-on-one. Front UF Colin Castleton grabbed the rebound, then hit two free throws with 0.4 to go.

“We’re so resilient,” Fleming said.

Give them that. The Gators, playing a second straight game minus the forward start Anthony Durji (ankle), have now won nine games this season after trailing by at least nine points.

Once again, Castleton led his team with 19 points and seven rebounds, while Fleming, just three days away from his virtuoso performance in his hometown of Athens, Georgia, added 16 points, four rebounds, six assists decisive, three interceptions. and two blocks, one of which was monumental in the rally. Jones had 13 points and a fifth-year primary point guard Tyree Appleby had 12. There were also unsung heroes, with some backups, wing Niels Lane and rarely used forward Tuongthach Gatkek, combining for 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting in 33 minutes, plus stifling defense on the stretch. Five different UF players scored in the 14-2 blitz and covered the final 3:39; four different accounted for the game-ending 9-0 run.

“Sometimes you need guys to step in and surprise you to win a game on the road in this league,” White said.

The anatomy of this comeback, as the fiery Jones asserted, started on the defensive. The Commodores had completely destroyed the Gators’ defense for 36 minutes with sizzling shots from the arc, along with no less than five late deflated clock marks.

Vandy went 8 for 16 from the start of the first half, but still trailed by four at the break because UF shot 56% and made six of their 12 3s. The Gators had a six-point lead with 14 minutes remaining when the Commodores took off on a 15-game straight streak that included three 3s and an old-fashioned three-point game, to take a nine-point lead with 10 minutes left. to play. Florida managed to pull away and three times tied in one possession, but then Pippin, who was 11 for 17 from the floor and 5 for 7 from range, nailed a trey with his heels on the Vandy logo, who was followed by another from backup guard Trey Thomas, who made five on his way to 17 points. The Memorial crowd was also there.

It was then that White called time out and Jones called his teammates.

Tyree Appleby (22) and friends detained Scotty Pippin Jr. (2) just six points when they met in Gainesville in January, but the Gators had their hands full with the SEC leader this time en route to 29 points and five made 3s.

Vanderbilt’s last eight possessions have scored just two points. They went down like this: turnover, turnover, missed shot, missed shot, Pippin’s elbow jumper for a five-point lead with 45 seconds to go, then a miss, another turnover and two missed free throws.

“Any way we could lose the game,” Commodores coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “I just feel like we’re living in a nightmare right now. Because I… feel like it should have been our game. We’ve done enough. We’ve had enough contributions to win the match. We just weren’t smart enough and then they ran the stretch.”

As the Commodores pulled away, Castleton made one of two free throws, Jones threw a soft base float, and Appleby fended off his own foul to make it a two-run game. Pippin’s jumper pushed Vandy ahead 78-73, but Castleton was fouled and knocked down a pair of free throws with 31.3 seconds left to put his team back in one possession.

Defensively, the Gators settled into their all-court man to guard the finish, with Lane on the ball, but the Commodores threw long into coverage to a breaking Pippin, who grabbed the ball on stride and appeared on his way to an easy layup. Fleming, however, did not give up the game, chasing it, running in and fending off the ball cleanly.

“I did my best,” Fleming said. “I ran as fast as I could.”

It worked. At the other end, Fleming got the ball back, got walled off by a few Commodores, but threw a no-look pass to Gatkek, who put a layup on the block to make it 78-77 with 21.8 seconds to play. White called another timeout and ordered the same man all over the court, but this time changed and put the 6-foot-10 long Gatkek on the ball. McKissic, meanwhile, was instructed to stay with Pippin. He stayed close enough and offered just enough body in defense to hold off Pippin coming off a screen to screw up the timing of striker Jordan Wright on his inbound attempt.

His bouncing pass jumped out of bounds on the left sideline in front of the UF bench.

White substituted attack for defense and was rewarded for it.

“Everyone in the gym knew the ball was going to Colin,” Fleming said. “Just show how selfless he is.”

Castleton put the ball in the paint, felt the double team coming, and threw a pass to Fleming, who was wide open at the arc-extended free throw. The ball only hit the net with 6.3 seconds left.

Vandy, out of a timeout, this time fed the ball to Pippin, who raced into the front court on offense but was fouled by McKissic with 2.3 to go. it wasn’t the game White wanted, but it worked. Pippin, a league-high 74% free throw shooter with 244 attempts this season, hit the back of the iron on his first attempt and Castleton was there to prevent any fun second-chance ventures.

UF Guard Brandon McKissic lets out a triumphant groan as the final buzzer sounds at the Memorial.

“They had some shots during the game that were just incredible, so take your hat off to them,” McKissic said. “But tip your hat to us. We didn’t get discouraged. It hurts to be marked like that, but it shows our fight. They kept taking shots, but we kept coming back at them. They couldn’t hold us off.”

The Gators stopped bitching. Make saves and take shots. All this when it mattered most.

Maybe Jones should shout more often. And earlier.

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