Both teams struggled to score in the first half but it was the adjustments made by the Gators in the second frame that allowed them to come away with a 66-50 win over Arkansas. It was 30-28 at the half and while the Gators were able to dial up some plays that generated some positive looks after the break the Razorbacks struggled with Gators’ frantic defensive effort and that led to Florida winning the second stanza 36-22. This win for Florida advances them to the next round of the SEC Tournament where they will see LSU for the third time this season with both of the previous games being decided in overtime.
Make no mistake about it, Florida’s defense was what won them the basketball game and Kevarrius Hayes, Keyontae Johnson, KeVaughn Allen, and Andrew Nembhard (among others) need to all be commended for their defensive effort. Arkansas was held to 37% shooting from the floor with 13 turnovers, a number that shows just how much the Gators were clamping down. They did a particularly good job at taking away the Arkansas guards and not allowing them to get loose for big games. After going for 30 when Florida saw Arkansas earlier in the year Mason Jones was frustrated all day long on his way to only a 7-point outing and though Isaiah Joe put up 9 points quickly in the first half he was bottled up for most of the second and finished with 12. The defensive adjustments Florida made when having to double Daniel Gafford in the post were fruitful as they never seemed to over-help or send too many players into the paint, instead only sending the one help-side player they needed to while staying glued to shooters.
Setting The Pace
Arkansas is one of the fastest teams in the country and the Gators are one of the slowest in the SEC. As you can tell from the final score of this game, Florida dictated the pace and made this game played to their tempo. Often times it’s the team that can dictate the pace to their preference that wins and that was 100% the case today as the Gators turned this into a game where the ball had to be methodically moved up the floor on both sides, not allowing Arkansas to hit full stride and get the transition buckets they live for. Florida’s ability to dictate pace is one of their most positive attributes and they’ll need to keep that up for the remainder of the season.
Every rebound seemed to be contested by the Gators and they ended up pounding the Razorbacks on the glass with Florida ending up +15 in the rebounding department with 17 offensive rebounds. Rebounding hasn’t been the strength of this team but they were absolutely determined to control the defensive glass today and generate extra chances on the offensive end. Considering the Gators only shot 38% from the field they weren’t very efficient and those extra possessions really helped them put the points on the board they desperately needed. Keyontae Johnson was a complete monster on the glass with 6 offensive rebounds while Kevarrius Hayes provided 4, Dontay Bassett hustled for 3 in only 11 minutes of play, and Noah Locke chipped in 3 with his nose for the ball in traffic. This game was extremely close for 35 minutes (something the final score did not indicate) and if not for the offensive rebounding by the Gators the outcome could have been extremely different.
Gator Of The Game
Hands down the best Florida player today was Keyontae Johnson with 20 points and 12 rebounds. The rebounding alone saved the Gators as he secured tough defensive boards away from Daniel Gafford while keeping possessions alive on the other end and his 20 points were extremely efficient on 8-14 shooting. He knocked down multiple threes and was getting into the rim at will and was absolutely the most unstoppable Gator. He has been a tremendous player all year and we got to see the culmination of his work today.
Turning the ball over 12 times today the Gators were playing with fire against a team that can really punish you in transition. Not only is 12 rebounds a lot but many of them were on routine plays that they simply needed to be more focused on. Regular basketball maneuvers like swinging the ball from side to side or dribbling around a pick turned ended up with the ball being kicked around and turned over and in a lot of games that would really come back to bite you. Fortunately for the Gators it didn’t but if they turn the ball over like that again they could be in serious trouble.
The Gators now play LSU, a team with a lot swirling around them right now due to Coach Will Wade and guard Javonte Smart being named in a pay-for-play scandal. It’s not yet clear if Wade will be on the sideline and if Smart will be playing as both were held out of LSU’s last game but if that’s the case the Gators might get a major break. This is going to be a difficult game for the Gators but one they should have some confidence in given the fact they have already beaten LSU this season.