There were times it seemed as if the Florida Gators basketball team had already spent Wednesday afternoon enjoying their Thanksgiving meal.
Despite coming off a 15-point loss to No. 16 Purdue on Sunday, the Gators were flat at times against Vermont.
However, while they may have never been on fire, there were still sparks, and it was the combination of them that gave Florida their 86-62 lead over the Catamounts.
The first spark came from big man John Egbunu who posted the Gators first five points of the game, helping to build a 7-0 lead that Vermont was never able to claw out of—not for lack of trying though.
At the end of the first half, the Gators led by only five and it felt like even less. There was no energy, no drive and absolutely no fire in the team as they left the court.
Forward Devin Robinson said it was all stemming from a bad carryover after their first loss of the season to Purdue.
“First half we still in fog I feel,” explains Robinson.
“We were trying to play together and we were trying to play hard, but I feel like it was a lot of mental things that happened from Sunday at the Purdue game to now that kind of threw a little people off.”
As the Florida Gators went into the locker room though, some adjustments were made, and it wasn’t scheme wise.
“We knew that we had to get out our feelings before we had a rough night,” admits Robinson.
“We just knew we had to shoot the ball cause first half, no body was really shooting the ball, just being real passive so we just knew we weren’t gonna win like that so we just knew we had to turn things around before we be in a tough situation.”
A lot of this meant changing up the shooting percentage, which was 10-29 in the first half and reaching a number more like 40 according to Robinson.
After a poor offensive performance against Purdue, Robinson says players were “in their feelings” about head coach Mike White’s comments during film study, “so I think people were really nervous to shoot, just kind of hesitant so they didn’t shoot but we went into halftime like ‘Yo just play your game. It doesn’t matter what he says, just play your game and positive things gonna come.’”
This tactic is known as the “Mother Peacemaker” in general society, when kids are fighting so the mom gets them both mad at her so as to cease all inter sibling bickering. They join forces instead thus ultimately achieving the goal the mother wanted in the first place; it worked wonders for White and the Gators.
The Gators came out fast in the second half, going on an 8-0 run out of intermission and creating even more opportunities on the other end of the floor.
“What got us going was our defense,” explains Robinson.
“Our defense just [brought] our offense so that just gave us the energy as a whole to knock down some shots.”
“I thought we were tentative offensively, but to our players credit, we were playing within ourselves to a detriment,” adds White.
“I didn’t think we were tentative defensively; Vermont’s just very good offensively.
I thought we really settled in early second half…and then got into a rhythm led by Dorian Finney-Smith.”
Doe-Doe was that next spark, not just shooting wise but defensively, and setting up shots.
Finney-Smith led all scorers with 20 points. He also finished with 6 assists and 6 rebounds.
Devin Robinson lit up with a dunk and three free throws and a layup off a rebound all before the Under-16.
And with just over 11 minutes left in the game, Kasey Hill caught fire, sprinting down the court with a ball of a Kevarrius Hayes steal, faked out his defender going behind the back and putting in a reverse layup to go up 57-46 sending the O-Dome to it’s feet.
Two possessions later Finney-Smith sent a pass from one corner to the other, finding Hill for an open 3 that sent Florida up by 17.
There was the spark from Chris Chiozza after a steal in which he changed his mind about three different times as to how he would shoot the ball because he literally had that much time to decide.
By now the players had created themselves a decent flame on the court and Justin Leon came in to throw gas on it.
In the last five minutes the transfer from USF slammed home two dunks while also sinking a 3 pointer that formally introduced him to all of Gator Nation.
By the time the clock hit zero, the Florida Gators basketball team was walking off the court with a 86-62 win.
There’ll be a brief interlude for the actual Thanksgiving meal now, with plenty of time to sleep it off, as the Gators are back on the court this Friday to face Florida Gulf Coast.
You can catch the game on the SEC Network. Tip off is set for 6:30 pm.