GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—The Florida Gators figure Lee Humphrey won’t be able to keep up this 3-point shooting pace.
But as long as he does, he’s making it much easier for the defending national champions.
Humphrey made five 3-pointers, including three straight to key a rally from a double-digit deficit, and the top-ranked Gators beat the 24th-ranked Commodores 74-64 on Wednesday night.
“Any time you can get in a rhythm it feels good,” said Humphrey, who was 5-of-8 from behind the arc and finished with 15 points. “It’s hard to explain. You can feel that you’re shooting the ball well and almost know it’s going to go in when it leaves your hand. Fortunately, I’ve been hitting them lately and hopefully I can continue.”
One of the best outside shooters in the country, Humphrey added another 3 that gave Florida a 70-59 lead with 2:56 remaining and essentially sealed the team’s 13th straight victory.
Although Humphrey’s shots were big, he dropped to 28-of-40 (70 percent) from 3-point range in conference play—numbers he and coach Billy Donovan believe will eventually even out.
“I’ll take it,” Humphrey said. “If 5-for-8 makes my shooting percentage goes down, I’ll take 5-for-8 any night. I’ve been happy with the way I’ve been shooting the ball.”
The Gators (20-2, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half and were down 41-30 at the break. But they looked much more like the defending national champions in the second half. They made 16 of 22 shots (73 percent) in the second half.
It started with Humphrey.
After the Gators tied the game at 45, Humphrey hit three shots from long range on consecutive possessions—the last one two steps behind the line.
“You can tell when he gets going because he’s just shooting it and puts his hands down real fast,” teammate Taurean Green said. “We feed off of that when he makes 3s.”
Joakim Noah and Al Horford took over from there.
The duo struggled in the first half, getting double teamed down low and combining to shoot 4-of-10 from the field. But they dominated inside after the break.
Noah made three straight baskets—a layup and two dunks—and then Horford followed with two slams and a free throw. The second dunk came on the end of an ally-oop pass that gave the Gators a 10-point advantage, 65-55.
Noah had 19 points and nine rebounds, and Horford added 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“We will have to play a lot better if we are ever going to beat them,” Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. “I think they are the best team in the country. I thought our guys played as hard as they could and we got outplayed by a pretty wide margin in the second half.”
Florida extended its winning streak against Vanderbilt (15-7, 5-3) to seven and has won of 12 of 13 in the series. The Gators also stopped Vanderbilt’s four-game winning streak that included upset victories at Kentucky and LSU.
Derrick Byars led Vandy with 21 points, including 14 in the first half. Second-leading scorer Shan Foster added nine points and six rebounds.
Vanderbilt’s bench helped fuel Florida’s second-half rally.
With his team leading 41-37, Stallings was called for a technical foul and assistant King Rice was tossed after another technical seconds later. Green made three of four free throws, then added a 3-pointer to put the Gators ahead for the first time since leading 5-4 in the opening minutes.
“Obviously, there was some momentum shift there,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said.
Florida, which leads the nation in field goal percentage and heads the conference in defense, needed help after their worst half of the season. They missed numerous layups, gave up too many easy baskets and got in foul trouble. Horford, Corey Brewer and Chris Richard each had two fouls.
The Commodores doubled the post players and played tight defense on Humphrey. It worked to near perfection in the opening 20 minutes, with the Gators shooting 29 percent (9-of-31) and going 2-of-9 from 3-point range.
After the break, everything changed.
“I think the first four minutes were critical for us,” Horford said. “We came out and got defensive stops, got on the break, got some easy baskets. Coach just told us at halftime we’ve got to be able to execute better and get the extra pass, and that’s what we did.
“That’s what we do. We turn it up.”