NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt’s 2020-21 season came to a heartbreaking end Thursday at the SEC Tournament where fifth-seeded Florida survived in a 69-63 win at Bridgestone Arena.
No. 12 Vandy led with 7:56 to play, but the Gators prevailed down the stretch by ending the game on a 9-4 run.
Florida (14-8) advances to face Tennessee in the quarterfinals Friday.
For Vanderbilt, sophomore Scotty Pippen Jr. scored 23 points and went 10-for-10 from the free throw line. He finished the tournament 25 of 25 at the charity stripe.
Down 64-59 with the clock creeping toward the 4-minute mark Thursday, Vanderbilt senior Clevon Brown finished at the basket to make it 64-61. With 1:40 to play, Pippen sank two free throws cutting the score to 64-63.
But Vandy wouldn’t score again.
Tre Mann hit a tough shot shortly thereafter then two clutch free throws with 28 seconds left making it 69-63.
Mann finished with 22 to pace the Gators.
“I think tonight all the guys played hard,” Vanderbilt senior Maxwell Evans said. “Florida is a very great team. Coach (Jerry Stackhouse) had a great game plan. Missed a couple open shots that we normally make.”
Vanderbilt went the first 4 1/2 minutes of the contest without a field goal. A Brown dunk followed by a Brown 3 changed that and gave Vandy an 8-6 lead.
The Dores went nearly three minutes without scoring while Florida built a 16-11 lead, but Issac McBride hit a left-corner 3 and Pippen finished a runner to draw even at 16-16. Florida once agin crept ahead at 26-20 thanks to a Mann jumper with 4:26 to play in the half.
An 8-0 run from the Gators – which included back-to-back 3s from Noah Locke – made it a 34-22 game.
That’s where the score would remain as the team’s left the floor at halftime. Vandy went the final 3:30 of the half without a point and finished 8 of 25 from the floor.
Vanderbilt had one offensive rebound after 20 minutes.
The Commodores came out of the break hot and hit their first four shots – three 3s – in cutting the deficit to 38-33. But Vandy could not get defensive stops as Florida consistently held a lead that hovered between 8-10 points for the next several minutes.
With 9:44 left, Thomas hit a 3 cutting the score to 54-49. One possession later the freshman banged in another. Then he sank his third in a row and suddenly Vanderbilt had a 55-54 lead.
The 11-0 run by the Commodores gave them the lead with 8 1/2 minutes to play.
Both teams traded baskets from there until Anthony Duruji caught a lob from Mann and flushed home a two-handed slam making it 64-59. That set up the final five minutes of the contest, which proved to be the Gators’ time to make the crucial plays.
“We’re disappointed. Our goal was to come in here, really do something special. I thought our guys fought all the way,” Stackhouse said. “Had some opportunities, had some shots to give ourselves a chance. Thought we competed extremely hard, got defensive stops, all the things that you need to do to win a game like this. Just got to shoot a little better percentage.
“Talked all year, somewhere for us is getting around 11 or 12 3s. Tonight it was nine. We get a couple more of those, couple more stops here and there, could be singing a different story right now. I got no problem with the effort, no problem with how our guys competed.”
• Vanderbilt is now 40-58 all-time in SEC Tournament.
• Pippen, Evans, Jordan Wright, Brown, and Harvey started Thursday’s game for Vanderbilt. That marked the 18th different starting lineup for the Commodores in 2020-21.
• Wright has started 15 straight games for the Commodores.
• Vanderbilt has now made at least four 3s in 40 consecutive games.
• Vandy finished 0-14 this season when trailing at halftime.
• Vanderbilt is now 71-71 all-time against Florida and has lost seven in a row dating to 2019. The Commodores are 3-7 all-time against the Gators in the SEC Tournament.
• Pippen finished the season with 457 points, the seventh most by a sophomore in a single Vanderbilt season. Wade Baldwin is fifth with 466.
• Pippen’s 20.8 points per game scoring average was the highest by a sophomore in Vanderbilt history and seventh highest in Vandy history.
• Pippen’s 4.8 assists per game mark the ninth-highest average for a season in Vanderbilt history.
• Brown finished with 130 career blocks, the sixth most in a Vanderbilt career.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.