The Florida Gators football team wasn’t the only team to avenge past woes on Saturday. Just hours after Florida took care of Michigan on the football field, it took care of Butler on the basketball court in similar fashion.
It had been just over a month since the Gators fell to the Bulldogs 61-54 in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but this team looked nothing like the one that showed up (or didn’t show up) in the Bahamas.
Florida came out firing on all cylinders as it defeated Butler 77-43 and gave the Bulldogs their most lopsided loss in 24 years.
For a while, it felt like the Gators might pitch a shutout as they scored the first 21 points of the game.
The veterans really stepped up early in the game, starting with a KeVaughn Allen jumper on the first possession.
Then, Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone took over on both ends. Stone found Hayes for a jumper, Stone got a block, Hayes grabbed the rebound, Stone made a basket, Hayes got a steal, Stone hit a three-pointer. All of that happened in a minute and a half to put Florida up 9-0.
Between Hayes, Stone and Keyontae Johnson, the Gators had five blocks over the 21-0 stretch.
On offense, the Gators made 9 of their first 12 shots, while Butler missed its first 11. The Bulldogs’ first points finally came nearly nine minutes into the game as Jordan Tucker hit a three.
But Florida never flinched or stepped off the gas pedal. It couldn’t keep Butler off the board forever, but it continued to defend at a high level and shoot it with confidence.
At one point late in the first half, the Gators were shooting it at a 75 percent clip. Florida ultimately took a 43-18 lead to the break as it scored more points in the first 20 minutes than the Bulldogs did the entire game.
Florida didn’t sink as many shots in the second half, but it still came out with the same energy and mindset.
The Gators went on an 11-0 run early in the half to stretch the lead to 34 points. Butler answered with its only positive momentum of the game when it scored 8 in a row, but it would need much more than that to even remotely have a chance.
As if the Bulldogs hadn’t had a bad enough day, Johnson put a cherry on top in the final minutes when he hit a three and then added another monstrous dunk to his list. Those slams are quickly becoming a fan favorite. That was the loudest the O’Dome got all game.
After that, walk ons Andrew Fava and Mak Krause even got in to score a couple baskets and finish off a good day of Gators sports.
“We played as well as we’ve played this season by far,” said head coach Mike White. “Hopefully we play that well again this year. That’s the standard that these guys set today. We’ve gotta continue to get better. I thought we’d play well. I know our guys were excited to play, and I know we’ve improved, but I certainly didn’t see that score coming.”
There was plenty to be pleased with and very little to criticize from this game, but one thing White really liked to see was such a balanced effort. There may have been guys with slightly better stats than others, but for the most part everyone did their jobs and played a part in getting the win.
No one had eye-popping offensive numbers, but five guys scored in double figures. Noah Locke (12), Stone (12), Jalen Hudson (11), Allen (11) and Johnson (10) were the leaders as the Gators shot 53.6 percent.
One of the most telling stats of the game was Florida’s 46-18 advantage on the boards. Johnson led the team with 8, while Hudson (7), Stone (6) and Locke (5) followed close behind.
For the first time this season, White really thought the defense fed off the offensive success rather than having to make up for struggles on that end.
“The guys embraced being really good defensively,” he said. “We’re going to play some really good offenses in league play, of course. I’m not sure we’ll be able to maintain our defensive efficiency, but I think our guys will continue to embrace the fact that it gives you a shot every night.”
Now, SEC play is right around the corner. There is no more time for fine tuning, but the Gators seem to have figured some things out over the last couple weeks.
The hope is that they can carry it over and continue putting on performances like they did on Saturday.
“What you don’t want is to have this game negatively affect how we approach practice on Monday and Tuesday or have us feeling too good about ourselves,” White said. “I’ve never been big on wanting your guys to feel really good about themselves. That said, with our offensive issues this year, I actually want them to be proud that we played really well. That’s the standard. But if we feel too good about ourselves, South Carolina will come in here and snap us out of it really quickly.”