Vandy Shows Championship Mettle In OT Win Over Florida

Posted at 10:51 PM, Mar 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-11 22:00:37-05

On a Friday night in early November the Bryce Drew era at Vanderbilt unceremoniously got underway in a tiny gym at the U.S. Naval Academy in a 95-71 beatdown at the hands of Marquette.

Exactly 17 weeks later, that same Vanderbilt team knocked of 17th-ranked Florida for the third time, and second time in six days, 72-62 in overtime under the bright lights of the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament.

Back in November this was a team learning the ropes under Drew. It's best player, Luke Kornet, was injured, and the team's confidence was low.

But Drew has earned his money in his first season on West End, highlighting the team's offensive strengths and instilling a renewed focus on the defensive end of the floor. Throw in the all-conference performances of now healthy Kornet and Vanderbilt is one of the hottest teams in the country.

Vandy's seventh win in eight games highlighted a lot of the growth from where this team came from. Yes, the Commodores put four players in double figures, led by Riley LaChance's 18 points, and knocked down 11 three-pointers, but once again it was this team's focus on defense that proved to be the difference.

The Dores held the Gators to just 34 percent from the field for 45 minutes, and came up with some decisive stops late.

First, with the game tied at 58 in the final seconds on the heels of of a 9-1 Florida run, Vandy forced a contested runner from Kasey Hill. Then swallowed up Kevarrius Hayes's outback attempt as Jeff Roberson cleared the rebound as time expired in regulation.

Then in overtime, the Commodores surrendered just one free throw over the Gators' first six possessions while building an insurmountable 70-59 lead.

Kornet once again dominated the smaller Gators inside, recording his fifth double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Once left for dead with a sub-.500 record mid-season, Vanderbilt turned it around.
This team now believes it can beat anyone, and it has the scalps to prove it. A third win over Florida gives the Commodores a sixth top-50 RPI win and moves them safely off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament.

But the Selection Show isn't until Sunday and there's more work to be done in this tournament.

It wasn't the goal entering the season, or the week for that mater, but after the journey this team's been on why can't Vanderbilt cut down the Bridgestone Arena nets on Sunday?

They've proven they have the championship mettle over the past 17 weeks. And now they're just two wins from grabbing the hardware to match it.