So, this is what it looks like when the Florida Gators are hitting shots from the outside. The Gators, who have had their shooting nights when they couldn’t find the ocean if they were standing on the end of the pier, were on radar lock Tuesday night at UNF Arena in Jacksonville, and that left me shaking my head, wondering what might have been if they had just hit a shot or two here and there during a regular season plagued by inconsistent shooting and some of the most horrendous droughts from the 3-point line you’ll ever see.
Now, North Florida (22-12) doesn’t measure up defensively with the likes of Texas A&M, Kentucky or Alabama, but it’s hard to go 16-32 from the 3-point line if you’re playing horse. The Gators (20-14) found the range early and often against the Ospreys of the Atlantic Sun Conference to run away with a 97-68 win in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament in a game played at the UNF Arena Tuesday night.
Six Gators scored in double figures, led by Dorian Finney-Smith, who had 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals and a blocked shot to go with his 15 points. Kasey Hill had 14 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 steals, while John Egbunu pulled a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) and KeVaughn Allen hit 4-7 from the 3-point line as part of his 13-point effort. Chris Chiozza had 11 points, 2 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals and Devin Robinson scored 10 points.
Overall, the Gators shot 51.5%, knocking down 35-68 shots. The Gators outscored the Ospreys 48-27 from the 3-point line (UNF hit 9-25 shots). Florida forced 21 UNF turnovers and turned them into 27 points. The Gators outscored the Ospreys, 36-28, in the paint and 32-9 off the bench.
Dallas Moore and Chris Davenport, former AAU teammates of Kasey Hill, led UNF with 23 and 14 points respectively.
Next up for the Gators is Ohio State in Columbus. Ohio State (21-13) had to go into overtime to beat Akron (26-9), 72-63, Tuesday night.
Elsewhere in the NIT:
The SEC broke even on the night. South Carolina (25-8), which played with a short bench after Frank Martin suspended five players for conduct issues, got a career-high 30 points from Lamonis Chatkevicius and 20 from Sindarius Thornwell in an 88-66 beatdown of High Point (21-11). Prior to the game, Martin suspended Marcus Stroman, Chris Silva, Jamall Gregory, TeMarcus Blanton and Eric Cobb. High Point played without Big South Player of the Year John Brown. It was a rotten night for Alabama (18-15), which was destroyed on the road by Creighton (19-14), 72-54. Washington (19-14) from the Pac-12, beat Long Beach State (20-15) of the Big West, 107-102 and San Diego State (26-9) of the Mountain West Conference, blew out Indiana-Purdue Fort Worth (24-10) of the Summit Conference, 79-55.
Florida State (20-13) held off Davidson (20-13), 84-74, as Dwayne Bacon scored 23 points and Malik Beasley added 21. Valparaiso (27-6) surged late to hold off Texas Southern (18-15), 84-73.
NCAA First Four: Florida Gulf Coast blew the doors off Fairleigh Dickinson, 96-65, to earn the right to face #1 seed North Carolina in the East Regional on Thursday. Wichita State (25-8) of the Missouri Valley Conference won its play-in game with Vanderbilt (19-14) of the SEC, 70-50. Wednesday’s play-in games are Holy Cross (14-19) vs. Southern University (22-12) and Tulsa (20-11) vs. Michigan in a battle of #11 seeds.
#1 GATORS DOMINATE #11 SEMINOLES, 6-0
Nelson Maldonado and Peter Alonso hit home runs to back nine shutout innings by four Florida pitchers as the #1-ranked Florida Gators ran their record to 18-1 with a 6-0 win over #11 Florida State at McKethan Stadium Tuesday night.
Maldonado gave the Gators the only run they needed in the bottom of the second when he hit his second home run of the season into the left field power alley. Alonso hit his third home run of the year in the bottom of the third, a 2-run shot to left field to drive home J.J. Schwarz, who led off the inning with a single. The Gators added a single run in the bottom of the fourth on a Schwarz single, got another run on a Jonathan India single in the fifth and closed out the scoring in the sixth when Jeremy Vasquez scored on a wild pitch.
Dane Dunning got the start and improved to 2-0 on the season by giving the Gators 5-2/3 strong innings. Dunning scattered seven hits and walked only one while striking out 5. He was relieved in the sixth by Jackson Kowar, who went two innings while giving up one hit and striking out three. Kirby Snead got the final out of the eighth inning and Shaun Anderson pitched a 1-hit ninth.
The Gators open up the SEC portion of their schedule this weekend when Missouri comes to Gainesville for a 3-game set.
OTHER UF SPRING SPORTS
Lacrosse: The #2-ranked Gators remained unbeaten (9-0) with a 15-7 win over #17 Towson Monday evening. Nicole Graziano was named Big East Conference Midfielder of the Week while Sammi Burgess was named Big East Conference Attacker of the Week. Next up for the Gators is #1-ranked Maryland Saturday in Gainesville (12 noon, Donald Dizney Stadium).
Softball: The Gators remain #1 in the USAToday/NFCA Coaches Poll. Also from the SEC: (3) Auburn, (4) LSU, (6) Alabama, (11) Texas A&M, (12) Georgia, (15) Kentucky, (16) Tennessee and (17) Missouri. The Gators play host to Winthrop tonight in a non-conference game then start the SEC grind Friday when Tennessee comes to town for a 3-game set.
Gymnastics: Bridget Sloan was named SEC Gymnast of the Week for the sixth time this season after scoring a perfect 10 on floor and a 39.775 all-around in the Gators final regular season meet of the year against North Carolina. Additionally, Alex McMurty, who scored a 10 on uneven bars, was named SEC Specialist of the Week. The Gators’ next action is Saturday in the SEC Championships in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
SEC HIRES FORMER BIG EAST COMMISH AS BASKETBALL ADVISOR
Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey wasted no time to bring in help to bolster the league’s basketball profile. Two days after the league was embarrassed when only three schools were invited to the NCAA Tournament and one of those was a play-in game, Sankey hired former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese as a special consultant. The SEC has produced three NCAA champs since 2006 (Florida 2006-07, Kentucky 2012) and four Final Four participants (Florida 2014, Kentucky 2011, 2014-15) but other than Florida and Kentucky, the rest of the league hasn’t measured up. This year, the ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 all got seven teams into the NCAA field while the Big East and American Athletic conferences each got five.
SPRING FOOTBALL NEWS IN THE SEC
Alabama: Nick Saban hired former NFL offensive analyst Shea Tierney to his staff along with former Maryland coach and UF assistant Mike Locksley.
Auburn: Illinois graduate transfer T.J. Neal is expected to start at middle linebacker and lead a reworked defense this fall. Neal started the final 25 games of his career at Illinois with 255 tackles for his career.
FLORIDA: Don’t be surprised if freshman David Reese (6-1, 240) steps in to take over for graduated Antonio Morrison at middle linebacker ... With Martez Ivey out for the spring, the starting O-line at the moment looks like LT David Sharpe, LG Antonio Riles, C Cam Dillard, RG Tyler Jordan and RT Fredrick Johnson.
Georgia: Running back Nick Chubb worked out by himself on a distant field while the rest of his Georgia teammates conducted their first practice of the spring.
Kentucky: The Wildcats are trying to replace 10 defensive players including six of the top seven tacklers. There is very little in the way of experience in the front seven and while the secondary does have experience, the Wildcats are breaking in a brand new coach.
LSU: Brandon Harris, last year’s starter and the spring frontrunner for the #1 QB job, says the offense will be far more explosive than last year with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron calling the plays on the sideline instead of from the booth.
Mississippi State: Peter Sirmon, Mississippi State’s third DC in as many years, says the Bulldogs will play multiple fronts. “We’re not a 3-4 team; we’re not a 4-3 team,” Sirmon said.
Ole Miss: One of the challenges this spring for Hugh Freeze replacing safeties Mike Hilton and Trae Elston, who combined for 140 tackles, 27 pass breakups and 6 interceptions. There is good news at the position in that Tony Conner, who spent part of 2015 injured, has returned for his senior year.
South Carolina: Senior Perry Orth is working with the #1 offense. The Gamecocks are running an up-tempo spread offense brought in by former UF OC Kurt Roper.
Tennessee: UT will add 71 former athletes and coaches to its athletic hall of fame on April 16. Ironically, none of them is named General Robert Neyland. Neyland, one of the greatest coaches in college football history and whose name is on the UT football stadium, is surprisingly not a member of the hall of fame.
Mateen Cleaves, MVP of the 2000 NCAA Tournament, and Michigan State’s star in the Spartans’ national championship game win over the Gators, was charged Tuesday with sexually assaulting a 24-year-old woman. Cleaves is accused of taking the woman to a Flint, Michigan motel and attacking her. Cleaves, through, his attorney, has proclaimed his innocence.
At his end of season press conference, LSU coach Johnny Jones said “I assume all responsibility” for the Tigers failure to make the NCAA Tournament. LSU’s season was such a disappointment that the Tigers elected to stay home rather than participate in the NIT. Although there is some pressure to fired Jones, he’s expected to be given another year on the job.
Bobby Bowden can still swing a mean golf club. Bowden notched a hole-in-one Monday in Quincy, the second he’s ever made. Bowden, who is 86 years old, carded an 84 on the par 73 Golf Club of Quincy course.
My hero is Pitt running back James Conner. He participated in Pitt’s first day of spring practice just 24 hours after completing his 8th treatment for Hodgkin Lymphoma. Conner intends to play again in 2016. He won’t do any contact work during the spring.
Mike Wallace, cut last week by the Minnesota Vikings, signed with the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday. His 2-year deal is worth $11.5 million.
Former Stetson basketball coach Dan Hipsher has been reassigned at Texas-Rio Grande Valley, which used to be known as Texas-Pan American.
Baylor assistant Grant McCasland will be the new head coach at Arkansas State, replacing John Brady, who retired.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Are the Gators capable of making a deep run in the NIT or will they be two-and-through after their next game with Ohio State?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
As David Sanborn and Richard Eliot wind down their musical careers, I’ve been turning more and more to Walter Beasley as my saxophonist of choice. Beasley, who doubles as a professor of Music at Berklee College of Music, has been around since 1987. He plays soprano sax, which is usually too frilly for my taste, but the more I listen to his music, the more I like him. Today’s music is Beasley’s 1998 album “For Your Pleasure.”