The Florida Gators basketball team continued its impressive start to the season on Thursday night with a 108-68 victory over the UNF Ospreys at home.
After getting a 116-74 win against Gardner-Webb earlier in the week, Florida’s offense put triple digits on the scoreboard once again. It was the first back-to-back 100-plus point performance by the Gators since 2003.
Following the game, UNF head coach Matthew Driscoll raved on Florida’s offensive explosiveness. He said it was a Final Four caliber team.
The Gators looked the part in the game. It was a bloodbath from the get-go as Florida raced to a 19-8 lead by the first media timeout.
Florida shot 50 percent in the first half, but the biggest takeaway was a stronger defensive performance. UNF was just 7-for-26 (26.9 percent) from the field in the first 20 minutes as the Gators took a 45-23 advantage to the locker room.
“The defensive intensity from the jump was better than the other night,” said head coach Mike White. “It was the best it’s been in my opinion, and I think there’s a relationship between really getting out of your comfort zone on the defensive end and shots not quite falling at the same clip. That’s why we’ve got to maintain that level of defensive energy and intensity and condition ourselves to be able to execute offensively and make shots while we have that maintained.”
It’s a little crazy to think that shooting 50 percent and putting 45 points up in a half is just average for this team, but that speaks to where Florida is offensively.
The tables turned in the second half as the Gators made each of their first seven shot attempts to start the half, led by two dunks a three-pointer from redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone on consecutive possessions.
Florida went on to shoot a high clip at 61.5 percent for the half and finished the game at 56 percent overall.
While defense struggled in the second half, the offense more than made up for it.
Six different Gators scored double figures on the night, with junior guard KeVaughn Allen leading the way with 18 points.
Junior guard Jalen Hudson cooled off a little bit after starting the night on a hot streak, but still finished with 13.
Freshman guard Deaundrae Ballard finished with double digits once again as he scored 12 more in his second game as a Gator.
After going off for 34 points on Monday, graduate transfer guard Egor Koulechov cooled off a little bit, but still finished with 12 points, led the Gators with nine rebounds and dished five assists.
This team proved a great deal of unselfishness on the floor. Florida has so many offensive weapons, and they were all a part of the victory. No one shined, but everyone made an impact.
That was another thing that impressed Driscoll, as he called the Gators one of the most unselfish teams he has seen in his 30 years of coaching.
“I think we have a really high level of character,” White said. “I hope we’re saying the same thing in a month. Right now, we’re in a really good place. We see it in practice every day, too. Just the character. I’m sure we’ll have a little bit of drama at times this year. Every team does, but overall, we haven’t had any. Guys are saying the right things, and so far, they’re acting the right way about trying to do things relative to winning, as opposed to filling up the box score themselves.”
The two pleasant surprises of the night came from Stone and sophomore center Gorjok Gak.
Stone really struggled against Gardner-Webb as he finished with four fouls and had just three points and two boards.
On Thursday, the smooth shooter Florida fans love to see showed up. He had 14 points, going 6-for-8 from the field (with a couple huge dunks) and 2-for-2 from distance.
He said he had been lacking energy recently, but his mindset completely changed after a meeting with his coaches this week.
“I thought he played more clear-minded tonight,” White said. “I thought he played really hard. You could see his juices flowing defensively. More times than not, when guys play clear minded, you look at the box score at the end of the game and they usually played better. I mean, 14 points off not trying to get 14. It’s funny how that works”
As for Gak, he got his first career start as typical starting center Kevarrius Hayes dealt with some disciplinary action for missing something academically this week.
He did not take as much advantage of his starting role as he could have, but as the game went on, he came into his own to have a career night. He had 12 points and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field and 4-for-4 from the foul line.
“Gorjak in the second half, he really got going offensively. We’ve gotta get him playing with more intensity without the ball in his hands … He’s gained a lot of confidence in the past year. He’s made a big jump in his confidence level with the ball in his hands.”
After playing two outstanding games to start the season, the Gators will look to keep that same momentum rolling as New Hampshire comes to town on Sunday before the team heads to Portland, Oregon to compete in the Phil Knight Invitational next week.