In a game that was loaded with lead changes, Florida held the lead for more of the contest but never pulled away. With the largest lead being seven points, the five point differential at the end was finished at the foul line, a place where the Gators struggled to convert at a high level a year ago.
Florida continued shooting free throws pretty well going 21-29 or 72.4% for the game down just a tad from their season average of 74.6%. In a game that featured 45 fouls and four players fouling out, the Gators closed strong from the line in the end.
The Pirates held a one point half time advantage (40-39) when they shot 55.6% from the field and held the Gators to just 38.9% at half. The roles were reversed in the second half were the Gators shot 54.5% and the Pirates took a nose dive hitting just 33.3% in the second half.
Florida assistant Darris Nichols spoke to the IMG Gator network that the Gators started applying more of the game plan at half neutralizing a couple of the Pirates’ best shooters.
The key was not letting guys do what they want to do,” Nichols said before explaining further. They had two lefties that really wanted to drive it to the left. You don’t see too many lefties in college basketball. So we put an emphasis on not letting them get to the strong hand. Ewe sat on that left hand and let them make plays with their right hand.”
The Gators also adjusted underneath, slowing down Pirate big man Angel Delgado. Delgado got off to a strong start in the first half and did manage 13 points in the game, but was held to just 5-13 shooting and three rebounds, 10 boards under his per game average.
“I thought John Egbunu did a real good job of trying to control the paint, not only getting blocks but altering shots in the second half.,” Nichols said after Egbunu scored eight points, hauled down 10 boards, and blocked four shots on the night.
The Gators are averaging a very solid 6.6 blocks per contest so far this season and Thursday they blocked seven.
“We joke with our guys that we get a lot of blocks because we let guys just drive right at the basket, but you have to credit those guys for just buying in and doing what we try to teach them every day at practice,” Nichols said. “That is going up vertically and keeping their hands up.”
Nichols explained that the Gators do things in the first half defensively that may lead to opponents taking advantage in the first stanza, but should pay off as the game progresses. That was evident on the shooting percentage line of the stat sheet.
“I think a lot of times the way we play the first half, you may not see a lot of steals out of our press, but one thing it does in the second half is it starts getting to guys’ legs,” he said about the other team getting tired. “One thing we have this year is that we have a team that can go nine or ten deep. We try and use that to our advantage, running guys in and out of the game. Hopefully that wears them down in the second half.”
The Gators played ten in the game and had three players score in double digits. That two of those three came off the bench to do so says a lot about how this team is using a deep roster in these big contests.
Sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen led all Gator scorers with 21 points and also pulled down six rebounds on the night. Off the bench, senior wing Canyon Barry scored 20 and seemed to again be a guy that turned momentum in favor of the Gators during the game. Junior guard Chris Chiozza scored 14 points and was key in putting pressure on Seton Hall’s guards.
“Down the stretch both guards were in foul trouble (Chiozza and Kasey Hill both fouled out) so we had to run them in and out and try to prevent them from picking up that fifth foul, but both Chris Chiozza and Kasey made huge plays defensively,” Nichols said. “We emphasize with those guards that when they rebound the ball that helps us in transition. That goes for KeVaughn Allen who had six rebounds.
Barry is scoring in all kinds of ways. He was just 1-5 from the arc in the first half, but made one of two in the second. His scoring included 6-7 from the free throw line and a variety of drives to the basket where he was too quick to guard. Barry also has a knack for collecting the backside rebound and finished with six boards on the evening.
“Canyon is doing a really good job,” Nichols said. “The bigs are doing a really good job, timing it up and setting good screens for him and our guards are delivering the ball where Canyon wants it. We’ll continue to try and get our shooters the good looks and when they focus on the shooters the others will hopefully be wide open.”
Maybe the Gators most consistent player this year, Devin Robinson, got into instant foul trouble. He fouled out of the game with only 11 minutes logged. In this tournament setting Nichols found a silver lining to the lack of time on the court.
“Well, he should be fresh tomorrow, that’s the way we are looking at it,” Nichols said.
In the end, the Gators got a quality win against a very talented team and away from their home court. In the big scheme of things when they are looking for a tournament bid at the end of the year, this won over Seton Hall will go a long way.
“This was a team that beat (National Champion) Villanova to win the Big East Tournament,” Nichols said. “This is a really good team and a really good win, but we have to get back to the hotel eat some food, watch some film on Gonzaga, and get ready for tomorrow.”
UP NEXT: The Gators play No. 11 ranked Gonzaga (4-0) in the quarterfinals of the Adovocare Invitational on Friday at 9:30 p.m. The game will be televised live on ESPN2.