UF improved to 8-0, the third-best start in school history, by holding the Dolphins (0-5) scoreless for the final five minutes of the game and closed the contest on a 10-0 run to claim the victory and spoil JU's home opener before a Jacksonville Veteran's Memorial Coliseum crowd of 7,170.
"It was a hard-fought game, and I knew it was going to be a hard-fought game," head coach Billy Donovan said on his postgame interview with WRUF radio. "Jacksonville had played four straight road games against very tough competition, and I'm sure they were excited to get back here at home to play. They played with a lot of energy, and it was a game where I thought we were somewhat sluggish."
The Gators got great balance in scoring again as has been their trademark thus far, placing four players in double figures led by Erving Walker and Vernon Macklin who had career-highs of 18 and 16 points, respectively. Freshman Kenny Boynton had 15 points to go with a team-high six assists and no turnovers, and senior Dan Werner added 13 points while continuing his fine all-around play. Junior Chandler Parsons again was a spark off the bench, just missing a double double with nine points and nine rebounds, the latter a game-high mark, and Alex Tyus added eight points.
The 85 points was a season-high mark for UF, which shot a season-high 57 percent (29-of-51) from the field, including a sizzling, season-best 60 percent (12-of-20) from 3-point range. The Gators' 12 treys matched their season-high, with Walker, who started off the season in a slump from beyond the arc, continuing to show an improved eye. He knocked down 4-of-5 attempts, while Werner, who was 3-for-5, continued his early-season success. He is now 14-of-25 for the year, an impressive 56 percent that is a team-best mark.
The Dolphins did win the rebounding battle, 32-30, including a 16-9 edge on the offensive boards that led to JU having a huge 21-4 final advantage in second-chance points. The Dolphins became just the second UF opponent this season to shoot better than 40 percent (44) from the field and score more than 59 points. They were just 5-of-16, however, from 3-point range.
"I didn't think we rebounded very well, in particular our frontcourt with Alex and Vernon, they've got to do a better job there," Donovan said. "But overall, I thought our guys showed some guts and courage in order to pull the win out. Certainly the score is not indicative of how close it was. But it was a great win and we're happy to get a win on the road here."
The Dolphins jumped out to a quick 10-5 lead, but the Gators responded with 11 unanswered points capped by a conventional three-point play by Werner to take a 16-10 lead. JU served notice it was not going to go away, however and fought back to tie things at 27-all with seven minutes left in the half. UF was able to close out the half on a 14-5 run to take a 41-32 lead at the break.
JU was led by Ayron Hardy and Lehman Colbert with 16 and 15 points, respectively. Senior point guard Ben Smith, the preseason Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year, scored 11, but was just 4-of-14 from the field and only 1-of-5 from 3-point range. He came into the game averaging 16 points a game.
The Gators will get a much-needed break before their next contest, which will be a nationally-televised contest (ESPN) against unbeaten, eighth-ranked Syracuse Thursday, Dec. 10, at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa as part of the Big East-SEC Challenge.
"I think eight games in 13 days has probably taken its toll on our guys a little bit," noted Donovan. "This is a tough stretch for us right now. We've got Syracuse coming up next which is going to be a battle, and then we have to go down to Miami and play Richmond (Orange Bowl Classic Dec. 19). But at least there's some time now and in between those next two games where hopefully we can, one, get better and, two, get some rest."