NASHVILLE, Tenn. – John Jenkins hit six 3-pointers and finished with 22 points, and Vanderbilt beat No. 16 Florida 77-67 on Tuesday night to clinch a first-round bye in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
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.
Vanderbilt, which snapped a four-game losing streak to the Gators, can finish no worse than third in the SEC going into its finale Saturday at Tennessee. Jeffery Taylor added 18 points and Festus Ezeli had 11.
Bradley Beal scored 16 points, Erving Walker 15, Kenny Boynton 11 for Florida (22-8, 10-5), which has lost two straight. The Gators still can finish second by themselves if they beat No. 1 Kentucky at home on Sunday.
The Commodores got off to an emotional start minutes after honoring seven seniors, four of them starters including Taylor and Ezeli, whose parents made the 20-hour flight from Nigeria to watch. They led for the first 30 minutes until Casey Prather dunked on a fast break to give the Gators their first lead of the game, 50-49 with 10:32 left.
The teams swapped the lead on the next five possessions, and Florida last led on a 3-pointer by Erik Murphy.
Taylor answered with a 3 from the left corner with 9:48 left, and Vanderbilt never trailed again even though the Gators didn't go away easily.
They twice got within a point, the last time on a 3-pointer by Beal with 5:41 left. Taylor hit his fourth 3, then Vandy made 12 of 14 at the free throw line over the final 5:04.
Florida hurt Vanderbilt over and over with its press, forcing 12 turnovers the Gators turned into 17 points to keep the Commodores from running away from them. But the Commodores, who attempted only three free throws in the first half, did a better job of driving to the basket in the second and wound up outshooting Florida at the line 19 of 26 to 7 of 11.
They opened by hitting their first three shots and seemed ready to rout Florida in front of a sold-out crowd at Memorial Gym in taking a 10-2 lead. Florida missed five of its first six shots, including its first three attempts beyond the arc.
By the time Jenkins, the SEC's leading scorer, hit his first basket, a 3, and Ezeli added a layup, Vanderbilt had its biggest lead yet at 19-7 with 10:55 left.
Then the Commodores went cold, something they have struggled with this season, and this drought lasted nearly 5 minutes. Kedren Johnson hit a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired with coach Kevin Stallings stomping his foot on the other end for a 22-14 lead with 5:58 left.
The Gators managed to tie it at 27 on Scottie Wilbekin's 3 only to watch Taylor answer with a 3 for a 30-27 halftime lead.