Florida Gators basketball shows maturity in defeat of Alabama

In a game filled with adversity, the Florida Gators basketball team came out on top of the Alabama Crimson Tide 80-67 on the road on Tuesday. The win moved the Gators up to a 4-0 record in the SEC, which is the best start to conference play since the 2013-14 season. Florida finished with a perfect 18-0 conference record that season and went on to make a Final Four appearance.

As with the last game against Tennessee, the score did not indicate how close the game actually was to going the other way. The Gators dominated a majority of the first half, going up by as many as 18, but that lead was cut to just seven in the final five minutes of the half.

Alabama started the second half with a 22-9 run to take what once was a Florida 18-point lead to a six-point deficit. The Gators did not have a single field goal in that nine-minute span. Keith Stone finally ended the drought with the first of his two huge three-pointers in the second half that would ultimately swing the game in Florida’s favor. The second came with Florida down by one with 6:42 remaining in the game. That gave the Gators a 61-59 lead. Alabama tied the game once after that, but would never lead again.

The story of the game ultimately came down to free-throws, points off turnovers, and points off the bench. Florida converted 75 percent (24-of-32) of its free-throws, while Alabama was just 50 percent (16-of-32) from the line. The Gators turned 18 turnovers into 27 points, while the Tide had just 10 points off 12 Florida turnovers. Florida outscored Alabama 41-17 in points off the bench. The rest of the stats between the two teams were close to even, including a one percent difference in field goal percentage.

Points off the bench might have been the most valuable stat-line of the game on a night that Florida’s best scorer, KeVaughn Allen, could not get going offensively. Alabama defended him well all night. He had just six points on a 2-for-7 night from the field that included 0-for-3 from beyond the arc.

“Last year and this year, in my opinion, they’ve done a phenomenal job of scouting report defense with regard to making things uncomfortable for you and keying in on teams’ best players, so we knew it was coming, and KeVaughn kept playing,” said Mike White. “He didn’t have bad body language. He didn’t sulk. He just kept playing, kept defending at a high level, taking what the defense gave him. I know that he was probably pressing inside, feeling uncomfortable in terms of the fact that he’s really been in a good groove here recently and so, it’s a difficult thing to deal with.”

Stone and Canyon Barry came to the rescue off the bench to score double-digits. Stone finished the game with 14 points. He was 4-for-6 from the field and 3-for-3 from long-range. Barry was just behind with 13 points. Kasey Hill also came up big for the Gators with 13 points.

“For Keith to step up, for Canyon to step up, for John to finish 3-for-3, to finish at the foul line, of course, it was very, very much needed,” White said. “If Kasey Hill doesn’t score 13, Keith doesn’t go 3-of-3, I’m not sure we score enough to get out of here with a win.”

The win at Alabama was very much a team effort by Florida. The Gators have taken the mentality this season that anyone can step up and have a great game on any given night, and that is exactly what happened on Tuesday. Florida continues to make strides in maturity every single game, which is the biggest difference from last year’s team. To add on to a great performance on the road, Florida is the only team to put up 80 points on a very talented Alabama defense that came into the game only giving up 61.1 points per game this season.

“Anytime you go on the road in the SEC, you’re gonna face some adversity,” said White. “We certainly faced some and you could probably say this for a few of our wins so far this year, I’m not sure these same guys would’ve been capable of winning a game like this last season. I’m proud of my guys. We’re getting better.”