Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Gators win big in NCAA Tournament opener

The East No. 4 seed Florida Gators (25-8) got back on the winning track and dis so in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against No. 14 seed East Tennessee State (27-8) with an 80-65 fast paced victory in Orlando Thursday afternoon. Florida junior forward Devin Robinson had a monstrous game for the Gators in the win.

Florida started off hot getting out to a 14-6 lead with 4:40 gone off the clock behind a dunking and sharp shooting Devin Robinson who finished with 24 points and 7 rebounds to go along with two blocks.

Florida would find that eight point lead erode when their shot went dry in the first half and went to the locker room with a 33-32 lead. They would see that small lead disappear with one shot in the second half on a T.J. Cromer (19 points) three, giving the Buccaneers a 35-33 lead. The two point margin would be the largest for ETSU.

Behind a defense that really got after it and an offense that suddenly found its mark, the Gators would race out to a 16-point lead (68-52), their largest of the game, in the second half with a little more than two minutes left in the game.

Junior guard Chris Chiozza struggled in the first half but was a highlight show in the second, while senior guard Kasey Hill had a solid all-around game both ended with 14 points, they combined for 8 assists, 3 steals, and six turnovers.

Sophomore forward Kevarrius Hayes had a strong game adding 7 points, 2 blocks, and a Gator NCAA Tournament record 6 steals in the contest.

Florida scoring suffered in the first half large part from open shots that would not go down. The Gators made just one three-point shot of 10 in the first stanza, a shot clock beating launch from Hill with two minutes left in the half. Florida ended up 7-22 hitting on six of 12 in the second half.

The Gators will now face 5 seed Virginia on Saturday in the round of 32 with the Cavaliers winning 76-71 over 13 seed UNC Wilmington.

The Good:  Robinson was special Thursday. He was making the right choices from deep, sometimes shooting the ball, sometimes faking the shot and driving to the basket for a dunk. He was hitting from deep (10-17 from the field, 2-5 from three) and he played defense as well as anyone else on the court. Florida’s team speed was showcased throughout. Make no mistake, ETSU was pretty quick, but in full court transition there were numerous fast breaks that the Gators just flew up the court for easy lay-ins or fouls at the basket. Gorjok Gak gave some good minutes off the bench. He showed some strong play inside providing excellent length on the defensive side and adding four points on 2-2 shooting.

The Bad: Too many offensive rebounds allowed. It is a statistic that has plagued them all year, but the Gators gave up 13 offensive rebounds to a smaller team, one more than they gained against the Bucs.

The Ugly: Gak needed some help at the free throw line. The Gators started out rough from the charity stripe and his early shots from the stripe were air balls that didn’t make it to the rim. He still was a positive influence when he was on the court.


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