How do you summarize the poise that Vanderbilt guard Alex Gordon showed in the last minute of today's game? "Clutch," according to Gordon.
Trailing by one (58-57) with 24 seconds to play, Gordon drew a foul on Florida's Jai Lucas, which sent him to the line for a one-and-one. Gordon calmly sank both free throws to give Vanderbilt a 59-58 lead. After Florida turned the ball over on the ensuing possession with a costly backcourt violation between freshmen Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas, Gordon made two more free throws to give the Commodores their final points in a 61-58 win.
Being in the situation to clinch the victory against the school from his home state made the Pensacola, Fla., native that much happier. "I just smiled," said Gordon remembering his trips to the line. "I just knew I was going to make them. My teammates believed in me and just told me to go to the line and win the game for them. Fortunately, I was able to knock them down."
Judging by Gordon's numbers at the line this season and especially during conference play, there should have been little doubt that he was going to make each of his attempts. On the year, Gordon is second on the team (behind Ross Neltner) with a shooting percentage of 78.1 percent from the charity stripe. While his numbers throughout the whole season are solid, it is his numbers in conference games that really stand out. In SEC play, Gordon is 22-of-24 from the line for Mark Price-like accuracy of 91.6 percent. In the final three minutes of regulation or overtime, Gordon is 82.3 percent (28-34) from the line.
With numbers like that, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings or anyone else in the country for that matter would be hard-pressed to find someone else that they'd rather at the line.
"At the end of the game, some guys get better and some guys get worse, and Red was awfully good at the end today," Kevin Stallings said. "Red is just a great competitor and he made some big shots in the second half and then he made those big free throws."
The fact that the game came down to free throws is somewhat unique in itself considering that neither team got to the free-throw line until almost 34 minutes had gone by in the game. Florida's first trip to the charity stripe came with 8:21 to play, while the Commodores did not get to the line until the 2:36 mark of the second half. However, both teams took advantage of their limited trips to the line, as Florida made 11-of-13 attempts and Vanderbilt made 9-of-10.
Vanderbilt's consistency at the line was especially crucial considering that the Commodores last field goal in the game was a three-pointer by Andre Walker with 7:17 to play. Walker's three-pointer - his second of the season - gave Vanderbilt a 52-40 lead, its largest of the game. Following Walker's three, the Gators outscored Vanderbilt 18-9 the rest of the game.
Being able to pull out a win at the foul line when shots aren't falling is something that Stallings attributes to the situations that the team is put through everyday at practice.
"Hopefully, you shoot enough of them in practice that you try to create pressure free throws everyday," Stallings said. "We've got our way of doing it and we do it almost everyday. You hope that someway there is a carryover and that it has a positive effect."