GAINESVILLE — After three consecutive years of struggling during February, Florida opened the month — and a critical juncture in its season — with the first of two home games this week and a chance to extend its lead in the SEC East.
It took five extra minutes, but the Gators found a way to hold serve at home, defeating No. 23 Vanderbilt 65-61 in overtime Tuesday night at the O'Connell Center.
Trailing 61-60 in the extra period, Florida sophomore guard Kenny Boynton hit a 3-point basket with 1:06 remaining.
"I saw the clock winding down and Erv (Erving Walker) found me," said Boynton, who was 3-of-12 from the field before that shot. "I just stepped in and that was a big shot for us, it put us ahead."
Then with 15.6 seconds remaining, senior forward Chandler Parsons was fouled chasing the rebound from his own missed shot. Parsons hit both free throws to seal the Gators' second overtime win in seven days. Florida (17-5, 6-2), which remains in first place in the SEC East, won double overtime at Georgia last week.
"It was a baseline runner for me and I knew I left it short, so I just chased down my own rebound," said Parsons, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
The Gators, who have struggled badly from the free-throw line this season, hit 15-of-24 from the line after halftime.
Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins — the SEC's leading scorer — hit two free throws with 24 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the score at 54, and Florida was unable to answer in the waning seconds, sending the game into overtime.
"I think we've got a pretty resilient group, they fight back," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "It was a game that could have gone either way."
Vanderbilt was hampered late in the game when three players fouled out.
"It was a physical game and I thought both teams played hard," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "It was a great game if you were on the winning side. They made some plays and we didn't."
Florida will host Kentucky Saturday night in a primetime, nationally televised game. The No. 10 Wildcats suffered a 71-69 loss at Ole Miss on Tuesday night.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.