New home ignites a spark for Florida Gators basketball

The Florida Gators basketball team put on a show on Wednesday night for the fans who have been impatiently waiting for the team to return home to the new Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Gators were on fire from the tip in the 94-71 rout of the Little Rock Trojans.
Electricity could be felt throughout the arena as Florida took the court for the first time. The crowd boosted Florida with energy it hadn’t truly felt all season long.
“It was awesome,” said Mike White. “It was rocking in there. It was fun, it was loud and our guys fed off of it from the tip. I thought our guys played with tremendous energy and confidence and without question this new energy level because of the new arena and playing in front of our fans for the first time all season was a big factor.”
The Gators started things off with a bang. Devin Robinson threw one up for Kevarrius Hayes and he slammed a dunk in for the first points to ever be scored in Exactech Arena. In the words of Mick Hubert, it was a “slam, bam, jam”. From that moment, it felt like it could be a great offensive night for Florida, and it was. Offense was the story of the game from start to finish.
A Robinson jumper followed that Hayes’ dunk, and then it started raining threes. The Gators were 16-for-31 from beyond the arc on the night, which topped the previous season-high of nine. KeVaughn Allen led the way from long range, as he went 5-for-7. Three of his five three pointers came within two minutes early in the first half and he scored 13 consecutive points for Florida in one stretch. Robinson was 4-for-5 from three and Canyon Barry made three of his own. Four other Gators had one apiece.
“Our guys settle in for sure when shots are made, but especially when arguably your best scorer (Allen) makes shots,” White said. “I think it’s just natural for teams. When you combine that with Devin Robinson getting into a similar type rhythm and having a similar time aggressive confidence to him, I think that that led to probably as confident a 40 minutes offensively as we’ve played against a really solid defensive program.”
Florida was extremely confident on the court. From the attitude the team had, it seemed like every single shot was going in, and a majority of those shots did go in. The Gators shot 60 percent from the field in the season-high 94-point performance.
Five different guys put up double-digits. Robinson posted a career-high 21 points, followed by Allen (19), Barry (15), Hayes (12) and Kasey Hill (11). It was a combined effort by Florida’s offense. Allen said after the game that it felt like it was just everybody’s night.
“We were just in a really good rhythm,” said White. “I thought our guys played really aggressive and they played really confidently. Again, I’d like to credit the environment. The environment just, I think, led to that.”
The Gators will have to take a short break from that environment as they head to Arkansas to begin SEC play next game. With more than a week separating Florida from taking the court again, it will be important to find a way to stay focused, but right now it is just about enjoying the moment. The Gators had a fairytale start in the first game of the Exactech Arena era.

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Bailiegh Williams
Growing up the daughter of a baseball coach in a household that revolved around Gators sports, Bailiegh’s future working in sports was her destiny. She played four years of varsity softball at Suwannee High School and one year on softball scholarship at Gulf Coast State College. In her first year she discovered a love for journalism so she packed her bags and moved to Gainesville to finish her A.A. and begin interning for Gator Country. She is now on track to graduate from the University of Florida in 2019. In her free time, Bailiegh enjoys binge watching her favorite TV shows and spending time with her family and her two fur babies.