NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Alex Gordon stepped to the free throw line with a chance to help put away the team from his home state.
And he smiled.
The senior from Pensacola, Fla., hit all four free throws over the final 24 seconds, and No. 24 Vanderbilt held off Florida 61-58 on Saturday to remain undefeated at home this season.
“I just knew I was going to make them,” Gordon said. “My teammates, they got with me. They told me to go to the line and win the game for us. Fortunately, I was able to knock them down for us.”
Vanderbilt (22-4, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) now is a perfect 16-0 at home and has won 29 of its last 30 at Memorial Gym dating to last season. The Commodores’ fifth straight win moved them into sole possession of third place in the SEC’s Eastern Division.
This win also was the 1,400th in school history against 999 losses.
Coach Kevin Stallings was happy to take the win following their 41-point victory against Kentucky earlier in the week, especially with his Commodores not scoring a field goal after Andre Walker’s 3 with 7:14 left. They did finish 9-of-10 at the line.
“I thought we had difficulty getting over the victory against Kentucky and everyone telling them how great they were,” Stallings said. “Anytime you get a win, it’s good.”
Florida (19-7, 6-5) had every reason to feel comfortable here, having won four of the last six on this floor. The Gators led 58-57 with 54 seconds left but didn’t score again in losing for the fourth time in five games.
Shan Foster led Vanderbilt with 19 points. Gordon, whose two free throws with 24 seconds to go put Vandy ahead to stay, finished with 12. A.J. Ogilvy also had 12 points.
Nick Calathes and Marreese Speights both had 11 points for Florida, the two-time defending national champion, and Walter Hodge added 10.
The Commodores, who lost 86-64 in Gainesville on Jan. 27, got a little help from Florida’s freshmen and a sold-out crowd in sealing the victory.
Florida turned the ball over on a backcourt violation by Calathes, who caught a pass from fellow freshman Jai Lucas with one foot on the wrong side of the mid-court line with 18 seconds left.
“I’d hope you’d know where halfcourt is,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said of the untimely turnover.
Gordon added the clinching free throws with 13.8 seconds remaining.
Calathes put up a shot, then Dan Werner bounced one off the rim before the buzzer sounded.
“We had two looks to tie, and we weren’t able to get them down,” Donovan said.
Vanderbilt led 52-40 with 7:14 left, then went cold as the Gators used a 13-1 run and tied the game at 53 with 2:00 left. Calathes scored on a layup after Werner stole the ball from Ogilvy who fouled Calathes hard.
But officials called a technical on Hodge, and Ogilvy said he elbowed him in the chest.
“I’m sure for Walter he wishes he had the play back,” Donovan said. “We need to control ourselves a little bit better.”
Foster hit two free throws to put Vandy back up, then Calathes added his own. The teams swapped the lead back and forth until Gordon’s free throws put Vandy up to stay.
“We feel like we’re the best team in the country when it comes to winning games down the stretch,” Foster said.
Neither team had gone to the free throw line until Tyus was fouled shooting with 8:21 left in the game. He missed the first but hit the second to pull the Gators within 47-40.
Vandy finished 9-of-10 at the line, and Florida was 11-of-13. But the Gators hit only one of 15 3-pointers, while Vandy hit 8-of-27 from beyond the arc in a game with five ties and nine lead changes in the second half.
The Commodores looked sluggish in the first half, possibly a bit of a hangover from their historic 93-52 rout of Kentucky on Tuesday night. The Gators led by as much as six several times.
Vanderbilt shot lots of jumpers, hitting only 3-of-14 from 3-point range in the first half. Walker, who had a career-high 10 points at Florida last month, scored in the final second to pull Vandy within 26-25 at halftime after missing a jumper and grabbing the rebound.