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Four-seed Florida Gators basketball (25-8) was the definition of a second-half team on Thursday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, rolling the 13-seed East Tennessee State Buccaneers (27-8) over the final 20 minutes on the way to a 80-65 win in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
OnlyGators.com breaks down the team’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2014 below.
It was over when … Moments after the second half began, ETSU drained a three and Florida found itself trailing for the first time all game. The Gators responded with gusto, splashing four straight threes as part of a 12-2 run to retake their eight-point lead and then using a 12-1 run (as part of a 24-6 scoring stretch) to go up a game-high 16 points with 8:35 to play. UF never saw its advantage dip below double digits, going back up by 16 with two minutes left in the contest.
First half focus: After a strong first 10 minutes in which Florida led by eight, the Gators began relying on the three and went 1-for-11 from the field (and 0-for-7 from downtown) over a span of 7:24. That allowed the Bucs erase their deficit and tie the game, though UF was able to take a marginal 33-32 lead at the break despite missing three of its final four shots and turning the ball over in the final five seconds of the half. Sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen went 0-for-5 from the field (four of those attempts from long range), and Florida missed its final three attempts at the charity stripe in the first 20 minutes. The Gators went 1-for-10 from three overall with eight turnovers, while allowing ETSU to go 10-of-18 from inside the arc.
Exceptional effort: Junior forward Devin Robinson was Mr. Clutch for Florida, coming through while some of the Gators’ usual scorers disappointed on Thursday. He matched a career-high with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting and hit back-to-back threes early in the second half to help create a nice cushion for UF. He also grabbed seven boards and stood out as a model of consistency for his teammates. Joining Robinson getting a pat on their backs is the Gators’ point guards as senior Kasey Hill and junior Chris Chiozza combined for 28 points, hitting 9-of-13 shots and 7-of-9 attempts from the charity stripe.
Significant stats: Florida made it rain from downtown in the second half, netting 6-of-12 threes with seven assists on 12 made baskets in the half. Though it looked like head coach Mike White might have the Gators attack the basket more in the latter 20 minutes after going 1-for-10 from deep in the first half, UF found its rhythm and made the shots count, which sometimes is all you can ask.
Odds and ends: Allen had a rough outing Thursday, in large part because of his insistence of shooting the long ball; he finished just 1-of-11 from the field and 1-of-9 from beyond the arc with seven points … graduate transfer G Canyon Barry had another sub-par performance with just five points on 1-of-4 shooting … sophomore center Kevarrius Hayes set a program NCAA Tournament record with six steals, adding seven points, seven boards and two big blocks … freshman C Gorjok Gak saw extended action (more than five minutes on the court) for the first time all season and came through with two dunks … the Gators only trailed for 1:05 on Thursday … Florida hauled in 20 points off 17 ETSU turnovers and had 16 assists on 26 baskets
What it means: Florida not only won its first NCAA Tournament game since 2014 but did so against a pesky opponent that tested its will often, particularly in the first half. The Gators were able to hold off a solid offensive team, which it has struggled with at times this season, on the way to White’s first career NCAA Tournament victory as a coach.
Up next: UF and Virginia will meet in second-round NCAA Tournament action on Saturday.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 16, 2017