After a tough stretch in the Battle 4 Atlantis last week, the Florida Gators came back home and got a big confidence boosting win over the UNF Ospreys on Tuesday.
The Ospreys played the Gators close for about the first nine minutes of the game, but from that point, Florida’s lead would stay in double digits the rest of the way.
UNF seemed to find a way to match every single one of Florida’s shots early in the game. The lead changed five times between the two teams within the first six minutes.
The Gators then used a 16-3 run to go up 25-13. Deaundrae Ballard started the offensive charge as he scored on four straight Florida possessions. He put up 9 points in just over a minute.
Later in the half, Kevarrius Hayes scored 6 straight points for the Gators to stretch the lead to 17.
Keyontae Johnson closed out the first half with a three ball to put his point total at 11 and give Florida a 53-33 advantage going to the locker room.
Hayes stole the ball on UNF’s opening inbounds play of the second half and took it the other way for a slam, and that was about the way the final 20 minutes would go. The Ospreys cut the large deficit back to 17 at one point, but there was no coming back with the way the Gators were shooting the ball.
Noah Locke, Keith Stone and KeVaughn Allen led the offensive charge in the end as Florida came away with a 98-66 victory and improved to a 4-3 record.
Mike White still felt his team left a lot to be desired defensively, but there were no complaints for the offensive effort. The Gators haven’t been able to find that groove shooting it lately. They found it and then some as they hit 56.5 percent of their attempts from the floor and made a whopping 16 three-pointers on the night.
Nine different Florida players made a three in the game, which tied for an NCAA record. It has happened just three other times in history, and one of those was also by the Gators in 2006.
No one was as impressive as Locke, who had a career-high 18 points as he went 7-for-11 from the field and 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. He was one of Florida’s best defenders in the game as well.
“No one on our team plays any harder than Noah,” White said. “I would put him up there with Kevarrius in terms of intensity level and just energy and the fuel he adds for that defensive fire. He came out of the game at one point and he looked sick he had played so hard. You love guys like that. Especially guys like that who can also make a shot, so it was good to see the ball go in for him.”
Up there with Locke, Ballard had his third consecutive double figure scoring game. He finished with 15 while going 6-for-10 and 3-for-6 from three.
Allen (13), Hayes (12), Johnson (11) and Stone (10) also finished in double figures.
While all of those guys were scoring, Andrew Nembhard was busy finding shots for them and feeding them perfect passes throughout the game. He had the best performance of his young career with 11 assists and no turnovers.
“He’s really good,” White said. “He was as good defensively as he was offensively. He’s starting to lead a little bit, he’s a terrific communicator, he’s tough, he cares, he’s competitive and he’s unselfish. He could’ve gotten 10 shots up tonight if he wanted to. Eleven assists, zero turnovers and he takes two shots. He’s about the right things.”
Florida also outrebounded UNF 42-25 and had 15 offensive boards to total 19 second chance points.
All of that said, the Gators are feeling a good bit better about themselves as the next game against West Virginia in Madison Square Garden quickly approaches. That will be a big step from UNF at home, and Florida still has a lot to prove against higher caliber teams.
“I feel like we came together,” Locke said. “It can get better, because we’re gonna be playing in the SEC and stuff like that, so we’ve gotta come together even more. But I feel like today was a step in the right direction.”