Continuing the play away from home as the O’Connell Center is being renovated, the Belmont Bruins posed a different kind of threat. The Bruins led off the season launching 41 three point attempts against Vanderbilt and 34 more in their win over Western Kentucky on Saturday.
The Gators started with a 15-0 run which lengthened to a 24-4 lead just under five minutes into the contest. They did it behind a terrific in-your-face defense that yielded six turnovers in that short span. For the night, the Bruins turned the ball over 20 times.
“I just thought we were locked in mentally as much as we’ve been this year defensively in terms of carrying out the scouting report, running guys off the three point line, communicating at a really high level, which I thought leveled off a little bit as we started to look at the scoreboard,” Florida head coach Mike White said.
“I thought that our energy from the tip was pretty strong. It was good in the half court and good in press. I thought our pressure in the full court was better in the second half. Especially when they cut it to nine, then our defensive pressure in the full court really picked up. Our bench was a big part of that. I thought we were sprinting with energy trying to set our one out of press, trying to set our half court man-to-man.
“Outside of a couple of miscommunications there defensibly, fouling a couple of threes, a couple of missed block outs, it was a really good defensive effort. We’ll continue to strive toward a perfect defensive effort.”
The pace did slow considerably at that point as the Gators only score nine more points in the next five minute span, but lengthened their lead out to a 24-4 margin. That is when the Gators got a little careless with the ball themselves and Belmont made them pay on the other end a few times.
“We have to continue to make strides with our maturity and accountability. At times tonight I think we all saw a really good defensive team. When you can do that for forty minutes, then you can start hanging your hat on it.
Belmont cut the 20 point deficit down to 12 points at halftime and then down to a 9 point differential (40-31), just two and a half minutes into the second half. That is when senior grad transfer Canyon Barry took charge and scored 11 of his team high 17 points in less than two and a half minutes of regulation time. The 11 points was part of a 16-0 run that propelled the Gators to the point where the game seemed out of reach and a 53 -34 lead. The gators would score six more consecutive points and get to the largest lead of the game, 25.
“I thought Canyon Barry was terrific there offensively. Our guards did a terrific job of getting him the ball, whether it (was) in transition offense or he came off of a pin down from either a four or five. We probably set a pretty good screen for him and Canyon is very talented offensively. He played really hard defensively as well. He showed what he’s capable of. It was two really good games in a row for him.
Florida had four players finish in double figure scoring. Barry (17, junior forward Devin Robinson (11), junior center John Egbunu (12), and sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen.
Barry was part of a bench rotation that White thought played at a high level.
“I thought the whole bench (played well),” White said. “Keith Stone (4 pts, 2 asst.) did some good things. Kevarrius Hayes (7 pts, 4 rebs) continues to play with a tremendous motor off the bench, giving up his body, defending, getting his hands on the basketball, he’s getting to the offensive glass. Chris Chiozza (8 pts, 3 stls), credit his toughness and defensive prowess here really in all four games. He’s been as consistent defensively for us as anybody.
While the Gators only shot 23.8% from the arc in the game, they continued to see their free throw percentage rise above the plateau they hit a year ago. The Gators shot 79.2% from the free throw line on 19-of-24 shooting from the charity stripe.
The Bruins were led by do everything Evan Bradds who has led the nation in shooting percentage the last two seasons. What seemed like a quiet night for Bradds actually turned out to be pretty significant, but White was all about giving the young man the credit.
“I thought we did a pretty good job and he went 7-of-9 (for 17 points),” White said. “It is incredible how skilled the guy is, how poised he is. He’s physically overmatched and just shows his physical and mental toughness. He’s undersized, not extremely athletic. Talk about a maxed out guy.
We talk about this with our team all the time. Win or lose, when you play a game you have opportunities to learn from the other team. There are certainly things we can learn from Evan Bradds and really this Belmont program… how they spread the floor, how tough they are. I thought again we play with a lot of toughness and energy as well, but Evan Bradds is a special player. I thought we did a decent job on one assist to four turnovers, which is a little bit unlike him, so we did hurry him up just a little bit. But to say we did a terrific job on him, I would be lying. He’s just a terrific player.”
Overall White was pretty pleased right after the game with the effort of his team and the way they handled the four different teams they have played away from home in the last two weeks.
“We’ll take it, we’ve played four good teams, four solid mid-major programs on neutral floors,” he said. “I’d like to credit the Gators from afar that have supported us. It’s been a unique opportunity to meet some Gators and play in front of some Gators that we normally don’t have an opportunity to play in front of in Gainesville.
“We appreciate those regular Gator folks that we see in the O’Dome a bunch that have travelled some from Gainesville to support us. I thought the environment was great tonight in Tampa. The facility is beautiful and of course the hospitality has been great everywhere we’ve been. We’re sitting here feeling decent about ourselves early on, not having stumbled yet. The fourth one, a program that we have a lot of admiration for in Belmont.”
UP NEXT: The Gators will play three games in a row going Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Orlando in an eight team field for the AdvoCare Invitational on the property of the Disney’s Wide World of Sports. The Gators open with Seton Hall (3-0) on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.