GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)Florida opened and closed the first half with 3-pointers, a fitting tribute on a night the program honored former coach Billy Donovan.
Noah Locke scored 19 points thanks mostly to a season-high six treys, Kerry Blackshear Jr. added 15 and the Gators hammered Vanderbilt 84-66 on Saturday after they celebrated naming the court after Donovan.
Donovan’s parents, his wife, their four children, nearly 30 of his former players and a few of his former assistants were on hand for the ceremony. The Gators treated them to a blowout.
The 54-year-old Donovan thanked all of them, along with his former boss and the Gainesville community, for helping him reach this career pinnacle.
”When you look down on the court, see your name down there as well because you’re just as much as part of it as everybody else,” Donovan said.
Florida (16-9, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) used a 17-2 run midway through the first half to turn a six-point lead into a laugher. Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse had seen enough.
Stackhouse was ejected in the waning seconds of the half after getting consecutive technical fouls. He felt like Scottie Lewis’ foul on Matthew Moyer should have been called flagrant. Stackhouse ran onto the court to protest and was hit with a second technical.
Stackhouse was wearing an all-green, ”gator killer” suit, but he changed into Vandy warm-ups after the game.
”My gator suit’s gone,” he said. ”That was supposed to be the gator killer. It just didn’t work out that way.”
Florida coach Mike White had a different description for Stackhouse’s suit.
”It was the color of a lot of money he made for a long time,” White quipped.
Vanderbilt trailed 48-19 at the break, and Stackhouse acknowledged having to play Florida in front of a sold-out crowd on Donovan’s night created a daunting environment. Current NBA players like Bradley Beal and Al Horford were watching courtside, and Chris Chiozza even slipped into Florida’s huddle late in the game during a timeout.
”We didn’t pick the schedule,” Stackhouse said. ”You could use it as bulletin-board material later on down the road. But it’s just one of those things, snowball, a lot of excitement and a lot energy for what was going on with him and rightfully so.”
Andrew Nembhard started the onslaught with a 3 on the opening possession, and Tre Mann hit one just before the buzzer to cap Florida’s romping opening 20 minutes. The long-range shots were a nice touch considering Donovan called the arc college basketball’s ”great equalizer” after he took over the program in 1996.
The Gators finished 10 of 20 from 3-point range against the Commodores (9-16, 1-11), who have dropped four straight in the series.
Saben Lee led Vandy with 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists. He also had four turnovers. Scotty Pippen Jr. added 12 points and six assists.
Florida led by as many as 32 midway through the second half, allowing much of the crowd to head home early. Fans were there mostly to recognize Donovan.
Donovan put Florida on the college basketball map. He left Gainesville in 2015 after two national championships, four trips to the Final Four and 14 NCAA Tournament appearances. In short, he made hoops matter at the football-first school.
His signature was placed at both ends, between the 3-point line and the key.
”It’s just really emotional for me, and I’m really humbled,” Donovan said. ”I’m just thankful that I was around such great people. I think that’s what it speaks to is the quality of people that I was fortunate enough to be around here at Florida.”
Vanderbilt: The Commodores lost for the 31st time in their last 32 conference games. They never had a chance in this one. Florida jumped out early and never let up.
Florida: The Gators have won four of their last five to possibly salvage their NCAA Tournament hopes. But they will need to win a few more down the stretch to make the tournament for the fourth consecutive year under Donovan’s replacement, Mike White.
Vanderbilt: Plays at Tennessee on Tuesday. The Volunteers won the first meeting 66-45 in Nashville last month, their fifth consecutive victory in the series.
Florida: Hosts Arkansas on Tuesday. It’s the final game before the Gators begin a daunting stretch that includes Kentucky (twice), LSU, Tennessee and Georgia.
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