Second Half Surge Leads Florida Over Merrimack

In a dog fight at halftime the Gators were able to catch fire in the second frame against Merrimack leading to a 77-57 win. When the buzzer sounded to end the first half it was Merrimack up 31-30, using their patented 2-3 zone to completely flummox the Gators. It looked like they were going to put some more heat on the Gators in the second half when they went up 37-34 but that’s when Florida flipped a switch. They went on a 20-0 run, taking what was looking like a possible major upset to what ultimately felt like a comfortable win in the cozy confines of the O’Dome. This second half surge saved the day for the Gators and covered up what was a performance they won’t be particularly happy with, but the final score showed a solid win and one they will look to build on as they enter preparations for a game with Richmond


Fueling The Run

For the first 25 minutes of the game the Gators couldn’t muster anything offensively but that was when Walter Clayton decided that he had enough and completely took over. Knocking down shots, pushing the ball in transition, and making savvy cuts for layups, Clayton finished the game with 26 points on 10-15 shooting, and it almost seemed like if it wasn’t for his offensive explosion the game could have ended very differently. Once he started drilling threes and getting to the rim for layups it seemed like his teammates got to exhale and start to play more freely and that’s when the Gators completely took control. Clayton is an explosive offensive talent and that flammability was needed against Merrimack.


Stepping Up

Center Micah Handlogten was active for this game and technically played, though after one shift where he got a couple of rebounds he spent the rest of the contest on the bench. That meant more frontcourt minutes available to Florida’s freshmen and Thomas Haugh was the first beneficiary, starting alongside Tyrese Samuel and making an impact with 7 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists. While he played well and posted a solid line, it was Alex Condon who actually won the day in Florida’s frontcourt with 12 points, 2 assists, and 16 rebounds with 7 of those boards coming on the offensive end. It was Walter Clayton who was providing most of the offensive spark during Florida’s second half run but helping it roll along was Condon who seemed to generate a second chance opportunity every time the Gators missed. Florida is hoping to have Micah Handlogten at full strength soon but in his absence the freshmen have been able to get some valuable reps.


Things To Work On

Florida didn’t have a very good offensive performance in their last game against Wake Forest and they followed it up with another disappointing effort against Merrimack. Mustering only 30 points in the first half, the Gators at one point went nearly six and a half minutes without a field goal. Even with the second half surge Florida shot under 40% from the field while turning the ball over 13 times. What saved the day for the Gators was offensive rebounding, and with Merrimack entering the game 318th in the country in defensive rebounding you thought this might end up happening. Florida had 24 offensive rebounds, bailing them out when Walter Clayton wasn’t able to put points on the board. The Gators would love to improve their offensive execution, but it’s good to know even when they aren’t able to make things happen their offensive rebounding will keep them in games.


Final Thoughts

Entering Tuesday’s game the Gators had hardly seen any zone defense and the 40 minutes of 2-3 from Merrimack showed that they have some work to do in that area. While Florida might not see a ton of zone this season there are teams in the SEC that will mix it in, and if any opponents saw how the Gators played against the Merrimack 2-3 they might be more inclined to play some zone. What this game showed on the positive side is that the Gators have much more spurtability than Florida teams of recent years and their athleticism, shooting, and offensive rebounding ability means that they can get going on some serious runs. Of course, that offensive rebounding also seems to raise the floor of the Gators as even when they can’t create or make shots they can get extra possessions with the O-board. The Gators will now turn their focus towards Richmond, a well-coached, intelligent squad that is known to frustrate high-major opponents.

Eric Fawcett
Eric is a basketball coach and writer from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His work has been found at NBA international properties, ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @ericfawcett_.