Two-seed Florida Gators basketball (21-14) was surprisingly steady in an important road game, handing the (3) Ohio State Buckeyes (21-14) a large loss on Sunday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio.
Head coach Mike White once again had the Gators motivated to play in a 2016 NIT game. Florida showed up early with a hot start and rebounded from some cold stretches to move on to the quarterfinals of the tournament for the fourth time in program history.
OnlyGators.com breaks down Saturday’s win with eight quick-hitters.
It was over when: With Florida’s lead down to seven as the Gators hit a cold stretch, junior point guard Kasey Hill banged home a three with the shot clock winding down to put his team back up 10 with four minutes to play. A similar scenario unfolded three minutes later, but this time it was redshirt senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith dropping a trey from the top of the arc to push UF ahead by 10 with just over a minute to play.
Significant stretch: Junior forward Justin Leon made his presence known Saturday with an early three, but it was a five straight points in the second half – a corner three and put-back slam – that spurned a 7-0 run and put Florida up a game-high 16 points, 56-40. The stretch reestablished a monster lead for UF, which had given up its double-digit advantage.
First half focus: The Gators started out hot, going 7-of-10 from the field and 2-of-3 from downtown to jump ahead 16-4 on the Buckeyes. It took 16 minutes for OSU to finally find some momentum, and when it did, it pieced together a 9-0 run to end that half – helped by UF sophomore point guard Chris Chiozza missing the front end of a one-and-one – to cut the visitors’ lead to 31-30 at the break. Florida ended the opening period 7-for-23 from the floor and 1-for-8 from beyond the arc after shooting so well to begin the game.
Painting the town orange and blue: UF was absolutely dominant in the paint, outscoring OSU 44-28 down low. The Gators also led in bench points (18-15), second-chance points (14-13), points off turnovers (14-9) and fastbreak points (8-4).
Still blooming: Hill has continued to lead Florida with his much improved play. After a somewhat-rough outing in the first round, Hill marched on and looks to still be trending upward. Over the last four games, he’s averaging 16.3 points on 25-of-47 shooting (.532) with his assists and steals outweighing his turnovers and miscues. It took nearly three full years, but the Gators look to have finally found a reliable starting point guard … as long as Hill can keep it up and continue growing.
Solid sub: In for injured redshirt sophomore center John Egbunu, freshman C KeVarrius Hayes did exactly what his coaches and teammated needed. He made all five of his shots, all four of his free throws (exceptional considering he’s a poor shooter at the line) and grabbed three boards to finish with a career-high 14 points. Egbunu’s loss was mitigated by the play of Hayes, and if he can keep it up, UF may have a chance at taking the NIT.
Everything else: UF began the contest 2-for-5 from the foul line but made 8-of-11 down the stretch to hold onto its lead … Finney-Smith was once again relatively inefficient but posted a double-double with a team-high 16 points and game-high 12 boards … Florida led the entire contest after breaking the scoreless tie 1:05 into the game
What it means / up next: UF will move on to the quarterfinals of the NIT where it will travel to face either (1) Monmouth or (4) George Washington on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in a game that will air live nationally on ESPN2. The Gators improved to 5-0 in NIT second round games by defeating the Buckeyes and will look to improve on their 3-1 record in quarterfinal action. Florida fell in the quarterfinals to Penn State in 2009 but last won in the round by defeating Arizona State in 2008.