The Florida Gators basketball team is an emotional sort. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, an open book, whatever cliche you want to use. From the moment they step on the court, Gator fans can generally get a pulse on the mood of the team and an idea of how the night is going to go.
When the Florida Gators stepped on the court in the Pavilion at Ole Miss on Saturday night, it was easy to tell it was going to a long night for the Rebels.
There was an air around the team that said this was not going to be a game they dropped.
It wasn’t going to be a game they dropped for themselves and it wasn’t going to be a game they dropped for their coach, Mike White, on his return to his alma mater.
The words energy and emotion seem to hang on the wind around this team. They decide each game night in and night out. The loss versus Tennessee saw it seriously lacking. The win over LSU had it in abundance. And what should be abstract things become tangible to the point of needing their own stat line in the box score.
On Saturday night in Oxford, the energy and emotion matched up to reveal a team that was determined to make a statement and shut up any doubters as to their talent.
Freshman guard KeVaughn Allen scored 27 points to lead both teams. He even outscored Rebels Stefan Moody who finished with 22. Moody is the fourth ranked scorer in the nation and best in the SEC.
Moody is also where the strength of the Gators game plan and emotions are really highlighted. The Ole Miss guard had been giving Mike White headaches all week, the coach admitted, as he tried to figure out how to defend him. The final conclusion was you couldn’t really stop him from at least getting 20 and had to work to contain him and outscore him. That seemed ludicrous at the time, but it ended up being exactly what this team was able to do. Because Moody is the best in the league, it was known that he would get into runs, that he would find flashes and that he would, as White correctly predicted, score probably at least 20. Add in the fact that Moody can draw a foul just by walking onto the court (he drew 15 versus the Gators, most of any other player) and it’s obvious that he’s going to be a threat.
Whenever Moody found the basket, Mike White’s team didn’t panic. If this game had been played three weeks ago, there’s a good chance that doesn’t happen. Instead the Gators let cooler heads prevail over Memphis blues and stayed focused on their game plan. Instead of fumbling turnovers or giving up fast break points, Florida stayed on the glass to grab rebounds—out rebounding the Rebels 39 to 29—and fought inside with their big men, leading to Dorian Finney-Smith and John Egbunu scoring 17 and 11 respectively.
The second half saw Ole Miss actually outscore Florida 41-31, but just as they did every time Moody got the ball, the Gators stayed calm, using their energy on defense to create their offense and hold onto the lead they had built so comfortably in the first half. This was the difference. It won’t show up on a box score and it won’t get a line in the Florida stat history, but on Saturday night in Oxford, the Gators ability to stay calm in the face of their opposition and create their own energy won them their first SEC road game, and it was evident from the moment they stepped on the court.