Florida flirted with disaster on Wednesday night playing lethargically in the first half and falling behind by as much as 22 points in the second but an inspired comeback led by the passion and energy of Keyontae Johnson and Scottie Lewis as well as the shot making of Andrew Nembhard allowed them to come back and win by a score of 81-76 over the Georgia Bulldogs. Not only did the Gators dig themselves out of a 22 point hole but they got their lead up to as much as 10, only to nearly relinquish it as the Bulldogs got back to down 2 with the ball in their hands. Ultimately the Gators got the stops they needed to and Nembhard seemed to hit every big shot and they were able to come away with the W. On the whole this game wasn’t pretty but the comeback was as intense as any effort we’ve seen in college basketball this year and the heart the team showed in battling back was admirable.
Right from the tipoff the Gators didn’t seem comfortable and they couldn’t seem to get any rhythm offensively and on the other end they were giving up dribble drive after dribble drive that allowed Georgia to build a comfortable lead. It was clear they were trying to pound the ball inside to Kerry Blackshear but Georgia was prepared for that strategy from the Gators and denied any opportunity for that to happen making Florida stall. Defensively the Gators struggled to contain the dribble and the shot making of projected number one pick in the NBA draft Anthony Edwards trumped even the possessions when Florida did play good defense. Two early fouls to Keyontae Johnson and Kerry Blackshear sending them to the bench kick started a 13-0 run from the Bulldogs which made things 41-26 Georgia going into the break.
Second Half Comeback
Florida’s comeback started with some energy plays that got the crowd fired up and the team getting a boost from it. Tre Mann took a physical charge, Scottie Lewis had a big block, and Keyontae Johnson hit some big shots. That got momentum going and then they turned it over to Andrew Nembhard who had 19 of his 25 points in the second half, getting his work done in the midrange with pull up jumpers or getting all the way to the tin for layups. Things starting to come together offensively definitely was a big part of the comeback but the Gators also were able to find some stops, something they couldn’t do in the first half, and that was a necessary part run to get back.
Andrew Nembhard led the way with 25 points and Keyontae Johnson fired up the comeback on his way to 15 points and 7 rebounds but there was another Gator that had a huge contribution even though it didn’t show up in the box score. Scottie Lewis had one of his best games of the season even though he finished with only 4 points. He was the Gators leading rebounder with 9 boards and a lot of those were important rebounds in traffic where he battled the active Georgia players. Offensively he was moving the ball well and not hunting his own shot and it contributed to the Gators playing some good offensive basketball in the second half. This was the “glue guy” performance the Gators needed from him and he was a big part of the win. One of the best highlights of the night was a block from Lewis where he sprinted back to the rim from his position at the top of Florida’s zone to pin Sahvir Wheeler’s layup on the backboard with only a few minutes left and it showed his fierce competitiveness and elite athleticism.
Freshman Tre Mann has had some tough stretches of basketball this year but he played excellent basketball against Georgia finishing with 11 points. 9 of his points came from behind the arc and he offered some of the shooting the Gators have desperately needed, but more so than his offense which has started to come along his defense really stood out. He was battling bigger players for most of the game and sitting down in his stance to guard dribble penetration and when he was a help defender he was always in the right spot. This resulted in him drawing 2 charges, plays that fired up his teammates and helped continue the momentum they had.
Look, there are a lot of problems that need to be addressed and the fact they fell behind by 22 to a middle of the pack Georgia team is definitely concerning but you’ve also got to appreciate the fire the team showed in coming back from that deficit to win. This is the team’s second huge comeback after coming back from down double digits against Alabama but they definitely don’t want to make a habit out of playing in these games. While the team definitely needs to get back to the drawing board and realize why their offense stalled and their defense broke down in the first 30 minutes of the game they’ve also got to feed off the excitement and emotion that comes with having such a big comeback win.