GAINESVILLE — Sandwiched between its loss to the worst team in the SEC East on Saturday and an impending showdown against the league's best team (Kentucky) this weekend, Florida faced a sense of urgency Tuesday night against Vanderbilt, trying to hold on for dear life to its NCAA Tournament hopes.
But the Gators offense went downhill, and the stellar second-half defensive effort wasn't enough.
The Gators held the No. 13 Commodores to 32 percent shooting from the field in the second half (33 percent on 3-pointers), but they shot just 26.6 percent, allowing the Commodores to escape with a 64-60 victory at the O'Connell Center.
Trailing 62-60 in the final minute, Florida's Erving Walker got a steal from Vanderbilt's Jermaine Beal, giving the Gators one last opportunity to tie the score or win. Facing extra help defense, junior forward Chandler Parsons passed to Kenny Boynton, who missed an open 3-pointer.
It was the second straight loss for the Gators (20-10, 9-6 SEC) and ended a streak of eight wins over the Commodores (23-6, 12-3) in Gainesville.
"They only took eight free throws in the game and they average 33, so our guys did a terrific job playing defense without fouling and holding them to a low percentage," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "They are a really, really good team. And with a really poor shooting night, we were not able to overcome a really good team, with our tough shooting night in the second half."
Florida trailed by 12 early then fought back to a 38-35 halftime deficit. Riding a 16-2 run midway through the second half, the Gators took a 47-46 lead on a tip-in by Boynton with 11:47 left.
But junior center Vernon Macklin hit Florida's last field goal with 9:53 remaining, with Florida going 0-for-11 from there.
Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins hit three consecutive 3-pointers from the 5:24 mark to 3:06 remaining to keep the Commodores in the game.
Florida senior forward Dan Werner had eight points and five rebounds in his final home game.
Boynton and Walker were a combined 8-of-24. Facing double-teams most of the night, Parsons was 1-of-4 and scored just three.
"Every time I would get off a pick and roll or get past (Jeffery) Taylor, they'd have four guys sitting there," Parsons said. "They did a great job playing help defense. Every time I would get past Taylor, they had a wall there. It was really effective defense."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]