By David Dawson
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Using hot shooting early and gritty defense late, the Vanderbilt women earned a much-needed 76-75 victory against Florida in overtime on Thursday night.
Vanderbilt’s Marqu’es Webb deflected two passes on Florida’s final possession in overtime, and the Gators were forced to take a tough shot at the buzzer, which was off the mark.
Webb scored the decisive basket with just over a minute to play in overtime after the teams had traded the lead during the extra session.
Florida had the ball at the end of regulation, but a potential game-winning shot rolled off the rim at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime, tied at 69-69. Vanderbilt then outscored Florida 7-6 in the extra five minutes.
Rebekah Dahlman finished with 18 points for the Commodores (14-12, 5-8), who saw a 12-point second-half lead slip away but managed to regain their composure in overtime and fight off the Gators (12-14, 4-9).
Vanderbilt and Florida came into the night tied for ninth-place -- along with Ole Miss -- in the SEC standings, and Thursday’s game could ultimately have a big impact on the seeds for the SEC tournament.
“I am just so proud of this team,” said Dahlman, who played all 45 minutes and finished 5-of-8 from 3-point range. “We wanted this one so bad. We’ve had some close games that didn’t go our way, so it was huge to pull this one out tonight.”
Morgan Batey had 17 points and a team-high five rebounds to help Vanderbilt atone for a 67-58 loss to Florida on Feb. 1 in Nashville.
Freshman Rachel Bell added 15 points for the Commodores, who overcame a 10-of-20 performance at the foul line.
Jasmine Jenkins finished with seven points and set new career highs with seven assists, four steals and 42 minutes of playing time.
Vanderbilt came into the game having lost its past two games and four of its past five.
“We could have made things a lot easier on ourselves tonight if we would have done a better job at the foul line,” said head coach Melanie Balcomb. “But it’s always nice to get a road SEC win. So I am proud of the team for that.”
Vanderbilt was 7-of-10 from 3-point range in the first half, but just 1-of-5 in the second half. The Commodores did not attempt a 3-pointer in overtime, and finished with a season-high eight 3-pointers for the game.
Florida’s Ronni Williams had a team-high 17 points, and January Miller added 15. Kayla Lewis and Carlie Needles added 10 each.
The Commodores’ hot shooting helped them to build a 44-36 halftime lead. Vanderbilt was 15-of-25 (60 percent) from the floor overall in the first 20 minutes.
The Commodores came into the night averaging only 3.0 three-pointers per game in SEC play, but they more than doubled that in the first half. Dahlman was 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the first half, and Bell was 3-of-4.
Bell, Batey and Dahlman combined for 37 of Vanderbilt’s 44 first-half points. Bell led the way with 13. Dahlman and Batey had 12 each.
Batey scored the first eight points of the game for Vanderbilt, setting the tone for an opening half that mostly belonged to the Commodores. They owned a 16-7 lead after Bell and Dahlman both hit early 3-pointers, and the lead swelled to 25-13 after another 3 by Bell.
The Gators then surged back into the game -- trimming VU’s lead to 33-31 near the four-minute mark -- but the Commodores closed the half on an 11-5 run to rebuild a 44-36 lead.
Vanderbilt now returns to Memorial Gym for two straight home games, hosting Missouri on Sunday and Florida on Thursday.