Let The Real Season Begin For 17-0 Gators

When walk-on Garrett Tyler drove to the rim from the left wing and finished with a two-handed dunk with 13 seconds remaining Wednesday night, it sent the Florida bench into a frenzy. That was the punctuation mark on the easiest win of the season for the unbeaten (17-0) and second-ranked Gators who now must turn their attention to a road trip to Knoxville that looms as the first stiff SEC test of the season against the surprisingly tough Tennessee Vols.

Saturday's tough roadie comes on the heels of a midweek game that was almost over before it even started. Florida hardly broke a sweat in handing hapless, helpless Savannah State a 113-62 loss before an O'Connell Center crowd of 11,070. In closing out the non-conference portion of the regular season (14-0 mark, best in school history) Coach Billy Donovan's Gators saw all 12 players scratch in the scoring column.

That leaves 13 consecutive conference games remaining in the regular season for the Gators, who have begun Southeastern Conference play at 3-0 with a road win at Georgia and two home wins. The Gators will go to Tennessee this weekend and then to South Carolina next Wednesday night, a challenging two-game set that will give a better indication of how Florida will fare in the rest of the regular season. Tennessee is off to an 11-3 record (Vols lost to Memphis Wednesday, 88-79) and South Carolina is 10-7 after an overtime win in Nashville over Vanderbilt, 66-64.

"We realize that as a coaching staff and as a team that with 13 games remaining this is probably the most challenging and difficult point of our season as we move forward," said Donovan, who said he was pleased that he was able to get his starters a few minutes and get his reserves, particularly the freshmen, some extended floor time.

Freshmen Walter Hodge (25 minutes) and David Huertas (23 minutes) were the only Gators who logged more than 20 minutes of playing time and no starter was on the floor for more than 19 minutes. The Gators played the final 8:17 with three walk-ons and the two freshmen on the court.

"Being freshmen, this was valuable to them in their growth and development as players and it was good for them to get the quality of minutes they got," said Donovan. "Both those guys pretty much led us in minutes tonight. It was good to keep those guys on the floor for a length of time where they could get more in that game setting because you don't know what's going to happen going forward like foul trouble, injuries or different things. This was a game where they could get a taste of being on the floor a little bit more."

Hodge scored a career-high 18 points including 5-7 shooting on three-pointers. Huertas also had a career high (15 points) to go with eight rebounds.

It was the eighteenth consecutive loss for the Tigers who started their season with a win over Division III Wilberforce. With no players on the roster taller than 6-7, Savannah State had no chance to physically challenge the Gators who scored practically at will. When the Tigers tried to go inside, 6-9 Al Horford or 6-11 Joakim Noah were there to swat the ball away. Florida finished the game with 12 blocked shots, six coming from Horford and four from Noah.

"Against a team like this you're going to get 10-15 blocks the way we play but you're not going to do that against SEC teams," said Horford, who scored nine points and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds.

Florida scored the first 13 points of the game and the closest Savannah State could come after that was a 10-point deficit at 16-6. It was 24-10 when the Gators went on a 21-0 run to stretch the lead to 45-10. The Gators went cruise control the final 4:51 of the first half for a 57-23 lead at the intermission.

Florida scored on a variety of dunks, jumpers and run-outs to start the second half as they built the lead to 50, 84-34, with 12:51 remaining in the game. From that point, Donovan got all the reserves in the game and allowed them to play it out until the game reached a conclusion.

The Gators shot 59.7 percent from the field (43-72) while holding Savannah State to 31.8 percent (21-66). In the first half, the Tigers managed just 6-35 from the field (17.1 percent).

Noah led the Gators in scoring with 21 points. Brewer was the fourth Gator in double figures with 11. Savannah State got 22 points from Javon Randolph.

The Gators had 26 assists for their 43 made shots with Corey Brewer leading the way with seven and Taurean Green racking up five. Florida outrebounded Savannah State, 53-27.


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