Mike White literally had no clue what to expect of his 23rd-ranked Florida Gators Saturday afternoon at the O-Dome. After a Friday practice that he described as “our worst in about a month,” White spent a Friday night usually meant for scouting reports. showing the Gators film clips of practice.
“Instead of watching Georgia film we were watching clips from practice so you would have thought we would have been a bit more locked in,” White said after the Gators pulled out an 80-76 overtime win over the Bulldogs before a crowd of 10,376.
There was carryover from practice.
“I was really concerned going into this game,” White said, “so it really didn’t surprise me at all [the way we played].”
Maybe it’s best to describe this game was one that was played in spurts. The Gators spent the first half trying to find something – anything – that would work. Georgia tried the same defensive strategy on KeVaughn Allen that Alabama used and it worked. There were no shots there for Allen. Devin Robinson’s mini-slump continued and the shots he was getting weren’t falling. That left it to Canyon Barry and freshman Keith Stone to come off the bench to pick up the slack.
Barry scored 12 in the first half and Stone drained a 3-ball with 9 seconds before the horn to tie the game at 32-32, where it stood at the intermission.
“We didn’t really come out the first half the way we wanted to,” Canyon Barry said. “Defensively we gave them a lot of easy looks and with those two great players they have (Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier) we let them kind of get into a rhythm. The second half we came out and executed. Our defense kind of picked it up. We were able to lock into the scouting report and we obviously made some shots.”
After a first half in which the Gators never got it all together on either end of the court, they spent the first 12-plus minutes of the second half playing catchup. On a couple of occasions, Georgia seemed ready to pull away and open up a double figures lead, but there were answers. In the final 7 minutes, Florida seemed to energize on defense and that carried over offensively.
Stone said it was Florida’s survival instincts kicked in and led the defensively flurry that turned the game around.
“That killer instinct… that if we don’t get a stop we’re going to lose the game” is how Stone described it.
Stone and Barry were answers when the Gators needed them most on this day. Stone got fouled on a 3-ball attempt with 13:20 left and his three free throws not only cut Georgia’s lead to 49-46 but threw a bucket of water on an offense that was just starting to heat up.
Barry scored 7 straight points with a 4-point play at the 11:22 mark that gave UF a 53-52 lead but Georgia spurted ahead to led 64-59 with 4:45 to go and it seemed once again the Gators were teetering on the verge of disaster. Yet, again, they found something deep within. Two free throws and a floater by Kasey Hill followed by a short jumper by Barry with 2:18 to go got the Gators the lead back at 65-64 with 2:18 left.
Had Hill knocked down his free throws in the final 24.8 seconds (he was 2-4, going 1-2 with 6.5 seconds left) the Gators wouldn’t have needed overtime but once in the extra period Stone and Barry were there to drive the necessary nails in to secure the win. Stone hit a 3-ball with 4:18 to go that gave the Gators the lead for good at 72-70 and Barry went 4-4 from the foul line in the final two minutes to ice it.
“We’ve had three or four [games] now where it’s been ugly and at time we’ve just found a way to win … we’ve got a little resiliency, we’ve got a confidence that’s heightening but obviously if you play with fire you’re going to get burned and there’s a lot of things that we can learn from this game.”
Resiliency was indeed key for UF. This was a game in which there was only one more made shot from the field (50) than there were personal fouls (49). Every time one team or the other seemed to get it going offensively, Ron Groover and his zebra crew tooted a whistle and killed the flow of the game. It seemed that touch fouls were in vogue while anything physical was overlooked.
It was enough to have Georgia coach Mark Fox shaking his head.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of rhythm to the game,” Fox said. He seemed to bite his lip when he said that. The 27 personal fouls whistled on Georgia sent Yante Maten and Jordan Harris to the bench and the Gators to the line 35 times. Florida’s 22 fouls sent Georgia to the line 21 times where the Bulldogs sank 16.
“I thought our defense overall gave us a chance to win the game but they made 27 foul shots,” lamented Fox.
This was a game in which the Gators needed every one of those free throws and great 3-point shooting from Barry and Stone. Barry hit 5-8 on his 3-balls, while Stone was 3-4. The rest of the Gators were 1-11 and if you take away Florida’s 3-pointers, the Gators made only 13 shots from the field.
Barry was Florida’s bail out guy. When the Gators seemed to be coming unglued on the offensive end, he got open looks and buried shots, finishing the game with a season high 27 points to go with 7 rebounds. Barry played with an air of confidence about him. He knew the Gators needed him and he was willing to step up and take the tough shots.
“He’s playing with a different level of confidence,” White said. “I really believe that and we all can see that. He’s just shooting the ball better. He’s shooting it better in practice, he shooting better during shoot around and it’s clearly carrying over.”
Stone poured in 17 points to follow up on a 14-point game in the win over Alabama that bailed the Gators out in Tuscaloosa. He also contributed 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 blocked shot and 3 steals.
Hill finished with 11 points and 4 assists.
Georgia was led by J.J. Frazier, who scored 25 points. Maten had 15 before he fouled out with 3:52 to go in the game.
Overall, Georgia shot 48.3% (28-58) but the Bulldogs were dismal from the 3-point line (4-16) and that proved costly.
“We’ve got to defend better than that,” White said. “We did just enough … if we weren’t at home this would have been very difficult to win.”
GAME NOTES: With 7:51 remaining in the first half, a foul was called on Canyon Barry that should have sent George Harris to the line for a 1-and-1. There was a media time out and upon return to the court, J.J. Frazier, who wasn’t even in the game when the whistle was called, was back in the Georgia lineup. Frazier went to the foul line and made the first free throw. There was a signal from the scorer’s desk, a review of the play and the point was taken off. Harris then went to the line and made two shots, but there should have been a technical foul called on Georgia. The fault is with the scorer’s table for not immediately alerting the zebras the moment Frazier stepped to the line and also with the incompetent Ron Groover’s zebra crew for not calling the technical foul.