Defense, defense and more defense. It was the story of the game as the Florida Gators basketball team (7-3) fought their way to a 72-70 win over Oklahoma State (7-4) during the Orange Bowl Classic.
Carrying over momentum from their energetic botch with No. 1 Michigan State, Florida came into the game with a defensive game plan and stuck to it.
The Gators grabbed 37 rebounds and took 10 steals compared to the Cowboys two in the latter category.
There were stats where Oklahoma State had a clear advantage, such as 3-point shooting and free throws; but when head coach Mike White needed his team to get scrappy, they did so and saw results on the offensive side of the floor.
Florida scored 24 points in the paint and 11 fast break points.
This would seem at first to fall in line with the theme that has been occurring repeatedly for much of the Florida Gators basketball season. Following the Gators loss to Miami the three big men—redshirt senior Dorian Finney-Smith, redshirt sophomore John Egbunu and sophomore Devin Robinson—had combined for a .497 shooting average, compared to the average of .371 by the guard trio of Kasey Hill, Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen.
But during the recent matchup with No. 1 Michigan State, Florida started to find the 3 point line with better accuracy and see their guards use speed to get inside on fast break layups as well. This was much of the same, with Chiozza, starting for the second game in a row, and Kasey Hill, coming off the bench for his second game in a row combined for 18 points. Their more noticeable impact though was in the transitions. Chiozza came away with four steals while Hill dished out eight assists. This is the play White and staff have been missing from their speedy guards and if it continues to progress then Kasey Hill could find himself as the most valuable 6th Man in the SEC.
Which leads to the next most important stat. Florida was able to receive 32 points off the bench with 11 of those coming from freshman guard KeVaughn Allen who finally found his groove. White recently mentioned that this game was sure to come for Allen.
“He’s really capable,” White said on Thursday of KeVaughn.
“He’s gonna have a game sometime here soon where he feels it up and he’s dealing with the freshman-itis that every other freshman here in the country just about, other than a few of them, are dealing with. It’s all apart of the process.”
There was also a resurgence of the 3-point shot in the second half with four different players find comfort beyond the arc—most notably Dorian Finney-Smith who led all scorers with 16 and nine of them coming from downtown. Two of these shots came from almost the exact same spot at the top of the key and during crucial moments. While Devin Robinson shows hops with his superman like rebounds, John Egbunu is able to slam it home with force and Hill & Chiozza flash speed, it’s Doe-Doe who continually shows up when his team needs him the most and has become unquestionably the “go-to guy”.
Florida will take this continued force from their big men and combine it with the needed play that the guards have exhibited the past two games and carry it on to their pre-Christmas matchup with Jacksonville.
The Gators will face Jacksonville on Tuesday in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The game can be seen on SEC Network + and as always, join GatorCountry.com to follow along for full coverage!