PREVIEW: Vandy Opens SEC Slate With Florida Gators

Vanderbilt opens SEC play on Wednesday night as the Florida Gators roll into Memorial Gym. The Commodores enter this contest at 4-2 overall while the Gators (6.5 point favorite) enter at 3-1 without having played a game in 18 days. Tip-off on West End is set for 8pm on ESPN2.

December 12th was the last time Mike White’s team stepped on the floor due to the unfortunate collapse of leading scorer Keyontae Johnson. Just minutes into the game against Florida State, Johnson collapsed and was taken to a local hospital. After initially being in critical but stable condition, he eventually reached a completely stable condition and was released from the hospital on December 22nd.

“Keyontae Johnson is back with us and doing well,” Florida coach Mike White said, via the Gainesville Sun. “He was at practice this morning and yesterday afternoon. He’s in good spirits, he’s helping us coach. He actually blew a whistle yesterday.”

The Gators finally returned to the practice floor this past Sunday after cancelling four non conference home games due to the circumstances surrounding Keyontae Johnson. Coach White told his team to go home and be with their families for the holidays before the SEC opener in Nashville.

Naturally, rust will factor into this one due to an unexpected break for the visiting Gators as they hit the reset button. 

“They’re ready to move on; not from Keyontae, but for Keyontae. These guys want to play basketball,” White said Monday. “We’ve got a ways to go with this team. We’re going to be a different team. But if we’re going to move forward we’re going to do it correctly. We’re not going to half-step it. Our guys are committed to that.”

Meanwhile, for the Commodores, this presents a golden opportunity to start the SEC slate on a high note. 

“We know that we’re still going to be finding out some things about ourselves as the season goes on. We feel fortunate that we’ve been able to play six games,” Stackhouse said. “There’s a lot of teams that are starting SEC play that haven’t been able to play one game. From that standpoint we feel good about some things.”

Coming off a dominating 87-59 victory over Alcorn State, the Commodores regained their swagger and confidence heading the SEC opener Wednesday night. Yes, Alcorn State is 0-4 but, Stack’s boys took care of business behind a career night from Scotty Pippen Jr. The sophomore out of Los Angeles finished with 30 points on 5-9 shooting from 3-point range. Myles Stute added 16 points and 4-6 from beyond the arc. 

If the Commodores can shoot as consistently as they did against Alcorn State, the Gators will go down in Nashville. In addition, Dylan Disu and DJ Harvey must elevate their game and step into the 2nd and 3rd scoring roles.

Will Clevon Brown return? Can the Commodores keep the hot shooting going? Who will Stackhouse go with in the starting lineup? All of these questions will be answered Wednesday night when the Commodores and the Gators square off in Memorial Gym. Tip-off on West End is set for 8pm on ESPN2.

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