GAINESVILLE — In a Saturday afternoon battle between two of the SEC's best offenses, defense made the most difference for Florida.
The Gators relied on a solid pressing defense in the second half that disrupted the Commodores enough to allow Florida to fight to a 73-65 win.
The No. 12 Gators (19-4, 7-1 SEC) have won 19 consecutive home games and are on a seven-game winning streak, their longest SEC winning streak since 2006. Florida shot 38.3 percent but forced the No. 25 Commodores (16-7, 5-3) into 17 turnovers, which led to 19 UF points.
"That's the reason why we won the game, our defensive pressure," said freshman guard Bradley Beal, who had 16 points and seven rebounds, including six of Florida's final 11 points to help seal the win. "Because we were able to force turnovers … and we got them to play fast, and when they were playing fast, it took them out of their offense a little bit."
Trailing 37-34 at halftime, Vanderbilt put together a 9-0 run to take a 43-40 lead with 16:56 left. The Gators eventually went on a 7-0 run to take a 56-49 lead.
Florida led 66-62 after Vanderbilt senior center Festus Ezeli hit two free throws with 1:32 left, and on Florida's ensuing possession, senior guard Erving Walker drew the defense to him with a drive and passed to wide open Kenny Boynton, who hit a 3-pointer with 1:01 left. Vanderbilt committed its final turnover with 29.3 seconds left and trailing by six. Florida hit all 14 of its second-half free-throw tries and 16 of 17 overall.
Florida center Patric Young, who has been slowed by tendinitis, started for the first time in more than weeks but played just 14 minutes, hampered by foul trouble. But forwards Will Yeguete and Erik Murphy played strong defense on 6-foot-11, 255-pound Ezeli, who had 11 points and three rebounds. Yeguete had eight rebounds and five points, and was disruptive on defense much of the game, especially when Florida pressed.
"I think they were really scared,'' Yeguete said.
Playing a second game in three days, coach Billy Donovan said Florida showed signs of fatigue throughout.
"I thought our energy was waning because it is tough when you play Thursday-Saturday like we've had to do, and I thought we were teetering in the second half," Donovan said. "I tried to encourage those guys to keep battling and fighting, and I thought we did that."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]