GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Liam Robbins put the Commodores on his back Saturday, and he and his teammates stormed through the swamp to another big SEC victory.
Robbins scored a career-high 32 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked four shots in a 88-80 Vanderbilt win at Florida inside Exactech Arena. The triumph gave the Dores their first three-game, regular-season SEC winning streak since 2017.
Robbins made his presence known early on with a barrage of made shots, and he kept coming for more during the 29 minutes he was on the court. He also waged a defensive battle with Florida center Colin Castleton every possession the two were on the court at the same time.
The senior, though, got plenty of help from up and down the roster.
And it was Manjon who grabbed Robbins just moments before the opening tip to give a few final words of encouragement.
“He just told me, ‘Show ’em you’re the better big.’ He said, ‘We’re behind you, we believe in you, go get ’em.’ So that’s what I tried to do,” Robbins said.
Vanderbilt now travels to play South Carolina (9-16, 2-10 SEC) at 5:30 p.m. CT Tuesday. The Dores have climbed back to .500 in the SEC standings and will be going for their first four-game winning streak of the season.
“We’re feeling good about where we are right now,” Vandy head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “The tests that we created for ourselves early in the season are paying off for us now. The corrections and different things that we learned and that we grew from are now coming to fruition for us in games. It’s a lot of fun to see.
“I feel like we’re capable of winning every game that we play if we come out and we’re focused and we’re locked into the game plan. I still think there’s another level that we can go to on the defensive end to still find a way to secure wins down the stretch.”
Both teams came flying out of the gate Saturday with Vanderbilt (13-12, 6-6 SEC) playing a shade better offensively. The Commodores made eight of their first nine shots, and Robbins made all six of his first six attempts.
The 7-footer had 13 points in the first 5:02.
“That’s what coach Stack told me to do. He said, ‘Take it to ’em early. Show that you can win that matchup one-v-one,’ ” Robbins said. “Luckily all my teammates were great. I got great teammates so (Florida) couldn’t double me, and we were able to score on them enough.”
Vandy built a 24-16 lead on a Lawrence layup a little more than eight minutes in before Florida went on a 6-2 run to creep within two.
At the 4:53 mark, Kowacie Reeves hit a high-arching 3 from the left wing to cut Vanderbilt’s lead to 32-31. A Reeves one-handed dunk moments later gave the Gators their first advantage of the afternoon at 35-34.
The Commodores got a late 3 out of the left corner from Thomas but then gave up a buzzer-beating layup on the other end to finish the half. That made the score 42-41 in favor of the visitors going into the locker room.
The teams traded baskets and leads in the early going of the second half before Reeves gave the Gators some separation at 56-52 thanks to a right-corner 3. Vandy hung tough and went back ahead by four at 65-61 with nine minutes to play as Robbins hit a long 3 from the right side.
Vandy’s lead was three as the clock ticked under 6 minutes, then Colin Smith drained a triple from the left corner to put the Commodores up 73-67. Three minutes later, Robbins provided the final dagger with a triple from the left side—Vanderbilt’s 12th 3-pointer of the day.
It wouldn’t need any more.
“That was some of the best offensive efforts I’ve seen all year from two teams,” Stackhouse said. “I think we fianlly injected a little bit of defense in the second half and was able to get a little bit of separation. Definitely a hard-fought win.”
Castleton finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds to lead Florida (13-11, 6-5 SEC).
- Vanderbilt last won three straight regular-season SEC games in 2017 when it won four straight.
- Wright now has 1,048 career points and is 46th in Vanderbilt’s all-time scoring list. Todd Milholland (1,053) is 45th.
- Robbins still has the seventh-most blocks (64) in a single Vanderbilt season. Damian Jones is sixth with 70 during the 2014-15 season.
- Robbins scored at least 20 points for the 13th time in his career and for the fourth time as a Commodore. He had never scored 30 points in a game before Saturday.
- The Commodores are now 9-3 this season when leading at halftime, 9-1 when scoring at least 75 points and 12-5 when shooting better than 40 percent.
- Vandy is one win away from matching its conference win total from a season ago. The last Vanderbilt team to win at least eight conference games was the 2016-17 squad that won 10.
- Vanderbilt is now 72-73 all time against Florida and 23-47 in road games in the series. The Gators had won nine in a row in the rivalry before Saturday.
- The Commodores had last won at Florida came Jan. 21, 2017.
- The 88 points scored by Vanderbilt on Saturday was its most against Florida since scoring 95 on Jan. 9, 2010.
- Attendance on Saturday was announced as 10,024.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.