Florida improves to 5-3 on the season following a 77-57 victory over Merrimack on Tuesday night. The Gators overcame an early 1-for-15 shooting stretch from the field, falling behind 21-11 before rallying to cut the lead to just one point at halftime. The Gators have won five games under Todd Golden after trailing by double digits.
“It’s a tricky one,” Head Coach Todd Golden said on his halftime message. “We try to be super, super consistent with our effort and our intent regardless of our opponent. I didn’t think we were good enough that way for the first 25 minutes of the game or whatever it was. We talked about that and making sure that regardless of the opponent, I think Merrimack is a pretty good team in terms of what they do and they have an identity, they’re well-coached, they have a plan. We obviously didn’t execute very well at all in the first half and they outplayed us.”
Florida had early offensive troubles due to Merrimack’s full court press and 2-3 zone, which the Gators had not seen yet this season.
“It’s a really tough zone to go against,” Golden said postgame. “If you look at their numbers, they’re really, really good at turning teams over. They do a great job taking away the three and for a team that doesn’t have a lot of size, they do a really good job of defending the two as well. The one area that they’re really deficient in I think is on the glass. I think we did a good job in exploiting that in the second half. It’s not a comfortable zone to go against whether you’re tagging from the high post, they do a good job at digging at your bigs. They do a really good job sorting out once you get caught there. Usually against zones there’s kind of hot spots or different things you can do to attack and get open shots. They do a really good job at covering the three point, which in turn makes it pretty tricky to compete against.”
Florida used a season-high 20-0 run to turn a 37-34 second-half deficit into a 54-37 lead with 9:43 to play. Walter Clayton Jr. and Zyon Pullin each chipped in eight points during that stretch.
“The second half rolled around, I thought we did a better job playing with more emotion, playing with more effort, getting on the glass, controlling what we can control,” Golden said on the adjustments after halftime. “We did a better job taking care of the ball and imposing our will on them. I was just kind of reminding our team that we have the capacity to be good but we aren’t there yet. We’ve got a lot of growth to do. The last 15 minutes of the game was more of a representation of what I want our team to be, obviously, opposed to the first 25 minutes.”
“We finally got a little 3-point luck to go our way, I feel like, in the second half. I thought we just dictated the tempo of the game a little better,” Golden said on the second half scoring stretch. “In the first half, they were controlling it. It was a little slow-paced back and forth. They were able to run good stuff against us in the half court because they were really organized. Once we started to get some stops it allowed us to get out in transition and get some easier baskets. Once we started to build a little of a lead, I thought that made them tighten up a little bit and then they missed a couple of shots and we got however many stops in a row that allowed us to get that thing over 10. We kind of settled in and played pretty well from that point forward.”
Clayton led the Florida attack with 26 points, including 21 in the second half. He shot 10-for-15 from the field for the game, hitting 4 of 7 3-pointers. It marked the first 20-point half by a Gator since Tyree Appleby had 20 in the second half vs. Auburn (2/19/22). Clayton also posted his second multi-block game of the season, swatting a pair on a single possession early in the second half.
“I was just moving the ball better, not turning it over, getting it to the middle of the zone, and allowing our bigs to make plays. They put on a great rebounding effort in the second half,” Clayton said on what worked for him in the second half.
Alex Condon recorded his first career double-double with 12 points and 16 rebounds. His 16 rebounds marked the most by a Florida freshman since Al Horford’s 18 vs. Alabama (2/5/05), surpassing Will Yeguete’s 15 vs. North Carolina A&T (11/18/10). It marked the most by any Gator since Colin Castleton’s 16 rebounds vs. Florida State (11/14/21). Condon’s nine offensive rebounds were the most by a Gator since Dorian Finney-Smith had nine vs. Arkansas (1/11/14) and most by a UF freshman since Yeguete’s nine vs. North Carolina A&T (11/18/10).
“I don’t really care about my stats, I just want to see us get our win records back,” Condon said on his first career double-double. “Try and go without losing a game in December, that’s our goal.”
- Florida posted a +22 rebounding margin in the second half on the way to a season-best +24 margin. Condon (16) and Thomas Haugh (11) both set new career highs in rebounding, while Will Richard’s nine matched his most as a Gator.
- The Gators’ 24 offensive rebounds matched the most by UF this century, tying the 24 UF had vs. Jackson State in the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
- Florida used a different starting lineup for the fourth straight game.
- It marked just the second game this season that all primary rotation players were available (also vs. Florida State).
- The Gators got Micah Handlogten back (ankle), and Zyon Pullin came off the bench (shoulder) following his late-game fall Nov. 29 at Wake Forest.