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March 5, 2011
NASHVILLE, Tenn.-The last regular season game has never been good to Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, and it wasn't again on Saturday.
With the chance to get a bye in the Southeastern Conference Tournament with a win, the Commodores instead watched Florida celebrate an 86-76 win that clinched the SEC's regular season tournament title for their second win over VU this year.
The Gators used a 20-5 spurt to end the first half and take a 38-30 halftime lead, and then, when VU made a run in the second half, a crucial call on a block-charge call negated a basket by VU's John Jenkins and instead led to a technical foul and four Florida points on the other end.
The Gators went on to build the lead to 14 within a few minutes, and although VU eventually cut the deficit to five, it never got closer.
Kenny Boynton had 17 points for the Gators, and Erving Walker added 16. Alex Tyus, Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin each added 13 for the Gators (24-6, 13-3 SEC), who tied a school record for league wins.
"We got beat by a better team today. They played better in every facet. [Florida has] gotten a lot better off since the first time we played them. They just sort of took turns [scoring]. Give them credit. They went better at us than we went at them," Stallings said.
The game's turning point came midway through the second half, when, with VU trailing 56-53 with 9:18 left, Jenkins drove the right side of the lane and ran into Parsons in the paint. Jenkins threw up a shot that went in, and one official called a charge on Jenkins, and the other, a block on Parsons.
Confusion ensued, and the officials went with the Jenkins charging call right in front of Stallings, who went ballistic, running towards an official and simulating a blocking call.
That earned him a technical, and gave a pair of free throws and the ball to the Gators.
Boynton went to the other end and nailed both technical foul shots. Tyus then hit a lay-up, and instead of potentially being tied, VU found itself down seven with a mere 15 seconds later.
"I thought it was a block but it didn't go our way," Jenkins said.
"I thought that was a turning point. Certainly for the life of me I didn't think it was a very good call, but I'll have to see the replay," Stallings said.
"But I thought that was a bit momentum play in the game. That's not to say that I think we would have won the game because we were outplayed for the final 30 minutes or so, give or take five or six minutes."
After Steve Tchiengang added a free throw to pull VU within six on the next trip, Tyus hit another layup, and Boynton stole the ball from Jenkins and hit a 3-pointer with 8:09 left for an 11-point Gator lead.
VU made one last charge with a 13-2 run from the 6:11 mark and ending with 3:04 left, when Rod Odom hit a long two-pointer to pull the Commodores within 77-72.
But VU failed to score on its next four possessions, and Walker hit all six of his free throws down the stretch.
That was the second huge momentum shift of the game. In the first half, VU's Tinsley threw down a thunderous one-hand dunk over the taller Parsons, which put VU up 25-18 with 6:47 left in the half.
But it was all Florida for the remainder of the period. The Gators scored 11 points on their next three possessions on a pair of 3s by Parsons, one by Scottie Wilbekin, and a lay-up by Boynton.
Boynton was fouled on his attempt, and missed the free throw, but Tyus picked up the offensive board and got the ball to Parsons for his 3-pointer.
That flurry started a 20-5 run for the Gators, who led 38-30 at the break.
Jeffery Taylor (10 points) and Festus Ezeli (nine) led VU in scoring at the break. All of Ezeli's points came in the first 5:24 before he took his first bench rest of the evening.
The Commodores shot 59.2 percent from the field in their own gym, their best shooting performance since routing Presbyterian in the season opener. But it wasn't nearly good enough on Saturday.
"That's never happened before," said Jenkins, who seemed to pause in disbelief when asked about that statistic. That's really odd."
Other areas of the stat sheet, however, removed the air of mystery over the outcome, particularly the rebounding margin. UF won the battle of the boards by a 35-22 score, and got 15 offensive rebounds which led to 15 second-chance points.
Stallings also was also initially at a loss for words when asked about that topic.
"I really can't say what comes to mind, and I didn't say much yet [to VU players]. I'll probably have a lot to say in the coming days of practice. If we're going to stand there and they're gonna get 15 offensive rebounds, and we're gonna get three, we're not going to win," he said.
"We've been down this street before. This has happened to us before. We can go on the road and get 23 offensive rebounds one night, but we can only get three at home. That doesn't make any sense. We've got to figure out a way to make it better."
Stallings has now lost the conference finale 11 of 12 times in his VU career, and wasn't in a chipper mood when asked about it.
"Honestly, don't you think if I knew the answer to that, I'd change it?" he replied. "I don't know. We play good teams. I'm not sure."
Jenkins had a game-high 22 for VU. Ezeli had 16, Taylor, 15, and Odom, 10 for the Commodores (21-9, 9-7).
Instead of getting a day off to start the conference tournament, VU will now play in the opening round on Thursday in Atlanta. VU ended the conference season a disappointing 5-3 at home.
After the game, the school honored a pair of seniors, walk-ons Joe Duffy and Chris Meriwether, who played their final regular season home game. Meriwether scored a bucket in the game's final moments.