NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt started this season with lots of experience and expectations. Now the Commodores head into March with something that’s been tough to come by the past few years.
A win on senior night. And a big upset at that.
John Jenkins hit six 3-pointers and finished with 22 points, and Vanderbilt beat Florida (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 16 AP) 77-67 on Tuesday night to clinch a first-round bye in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The Commodores had been 5-7 in the final home game each season under coach Kevin Stallings, who has tried a variety of approaches to handle the emotions of the night. This time, he said he warned them not to cry until after playing Florida, and he pointed to a damp yellow shirt as proof that they listened.
“It was a good night,” Stallings said. “It’s what you want a senior night to be because we beat somebody that is really good and had to play well to do it.”
The Commodores (21-9, 10-5) outshot the nation’s top 3-point shooting team behind Jenkins, and he easily topped his average of 3.9 3-pointers by hitting his first five from beyond the arc. They are tied with Florida for second in the SEC with one game left in the regular season.
“We were just trying to keep the ball out of his hands as best we could,” Florida guard Bradley Beal said of Jenkins. “We knew they ran a lot of screens for him. He comes off screens like non-stop. He’s like Ray Allen, he’s always coming off another screen and another screen and another screen. He’s a terrific shooter and he got hot tonight.”
Vanderbilt, which snapped a four-game losing streak to the Gators, can finish no worse than fourth in the SEC going into its finale Saturday at Tennessee. Jeffery Taylor added 18 points and Festus Ezeli had 11.
“Oh, no doubt that’d be great,” Jenkins said of finishing second in the SEC. “We have to focus on Tennessee coming up.”
Bradley Beal scored 16 points, Erving Walker 15 and Kenny Boynton 11 for Florida (22-8, 10-5), which has lost two straight since losing Will Yeguete to a broken left foot. The Gators still can finish second by themselves if they beat No. 1 Kentucky at home on Sunday.