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Florida Suffers Road Loss to Vanderbilt in Regular Season Finale, 79-78

The Florida Gators suffered a disheartening one-point road loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday.

One game removed from an emotional victory over No. 16 Alabama in Gainesville, the Florida Gators endured 12 lead changes and 12 ties against the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville on Saturday.

Despite a considerable advantage in shooting percentage on the day, Florida lost the turnover and rebounding battles to fall victim to Tyrin Lawrence, Ven-Allen Lubin and a pesky Vanderbilt squad on the road to close the 2023-24 regular season, 79-78. 

Both teams jockeyed for position in the early going, notably trading 7-0 runs, but they remained within two possessions of the opponent for a large portion of the first half.

Florida, behind its dynamic backcourt duo of Zyon Pullin and Walter Clayton Jr., took advantage of Vanderbilt's 26% shooting mark in the first half to grow its lead to as much as 12 points with 1:36 remaining.

However, as the clock ticked under 1:30 in the period, Commodores' big man Lubin knocked down two shots from the charity stripe and buried a triple on the ensuing possession to cut the Gators' lead to seven heading into the locker room break, 39-32.

Vanderbilt fed off its late-half success when the action returned, outscoring Florida 13-4 to begin the second period to take its first lead since the 16:19 mark of the first half.

Again, the two units traded blows back and forth in an attempt to pull away on the last day of regular season play in the 2023-24 campaign.

It wasn't until the seven-minute mark that Florida realized an extended, unimpeded surge. Executing a 6-0 run over 1:42 seconds, the Gators regained an eight-point advantage over the hosts, highlighted by a Samuel transition slam on a dish from Pullin. 

Coach Jerry Stackhouse called a timeout in an attempt to mitigate more damage, which initially resulted in the Commodores proving steadfast in their comeback attempts over the heavily favored Gators. 

They were able to tie the contest with under 1:30 remaining.

Florida saw Clayton slash to the basket and finish through contact to earn a three-point advantage with under a minute left. Vanderbilt used a loose ball foul on Samuel to cut the lead back to one before a steal and eventual bucket by Lawrence gave the Commodores a one-point lead with 15 seconds left.

A Clayton turnover on the final possession resulted in Vandy pulling off the improbable upset.

The Gators finished the day shooting 51.7% from the floor compared to the Commodores' 35.5% shooting mark. It nearly helped Florida overcome 16 turnovers and an uncharacteristic -6 margin on the boards (20-6 in favor of Vandy offensively) inside Memorial Gymnasium, but ultimately aided the Commodores in producing their ninth win of the year.

Florida will return to action on Friday for the second round of the SEC Tournament. 

Seeding, which is still to be determined, will dictate the time and opponent of the Gators' first postseason contest. 

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