It was raining buckets at Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. From start to finish.
Fresh off an upset over sixth-ranked Tennessee last Tuesday evening, the Florida Gators hit the road to Athens with the Georgia Bulldogs on the horizon. In a matchup between two programs occupying spots in the middle of the SEC standings, the showdown provided a load of unexpected fireworks from both sides.
Weathering the storm of Georgia's quick tempo in the early portions of the game, Florida fought back from a 16 to 9 deficit in the early portion of the contest to head into the locker room up on the scoreboard. Taking the lead with 6:13 left in the first half, Florida would hold it until the game's end; dominating time led 31:20 to 5:39.
Producing an onslaught of points out of the halftime break, the Gators would climb to a commanding 17-point advantage to put the game out of reach despite the Bulldogs' late comeback efforts.
As a result, Florida moved into fourth place in the Southeastern Conference and improved their record to 8-4 (5-3 SEC) on the year. Before looking forward to their return to Gainesville this upcoming Tuesday night, here are three takeaways from the Gators' 92 to 84 victory.
Both squads were making it rain
The impact of a team's ability to shoot the basketball efficiently can be the difference in wins and losses.
In a contest that saw each team shot above 50% from the field, Florida had the edge in every statistical category where shooting is regarded.
Knocking down an absurd 56.9% of their shots from the field as a team, Florida overcame Georgia’s 54.2% on the back of a career-high 24 points from sophomore guard Tre Mann.
Connecting on 7-of-16 shots, including 2-of-6 from downtown, Florida outscored Georgia by 11 points when Mann was on the court. The highest +/- of any player from either team.
Having five players eclipse the double-digit points mark on the day, the Gators put together their highest-scoring performance of the season, surpassing the previous high of 90 against Boston College.
Accompanying 52 points in the paint with a near 39% field goal percentage from behind the arc and 64.7% from the free-throw line — that saw a drastic improvement in the second half — Florida’s shooting excellence led to the scoreboards result at the final buzzer.
On the season, Florida and Georgia rank second and third, respectively, in field goal percentage amongst SEC teams. It is only fitting that when the two faced off, the contest culminated in an offensive explosion.
Frequent rotation of Payne and Castleton works
Thunder and lightning? Maybe not, but they are a quality tandem.
Mann penetrates the lane, throws a no-look alley-oop in the direction of Omar Payne under the basket. Payne elevates to snag it with his fingertips and slams it home to give the Gators a five-point lead halfway through the first half to play.
Multiple times this past week, I have made the assertion that the Florida coaching staff should employ both Colin Castleton and Payne in the lineup (at the least in a consistent rotation) more frequently. On Saturday night, that ask came to fruition — and it was glorious.
In Castleton’s absence — caused by an ankle injury suffered by Mississippi State — versus Tennessee forced Payne into a high volume role that he would take advantage of to significantly impact Florida’s improbable upset.
Despite seeing limited — if any — simultaneous big man personnel due to Georgia's fast-paced operation, both Castleton and Payne saw a respectable amount of time on the court.
Upon Castleton’s return, there was a clear point to ease him back into action and continue operating with what worked in their previous game. As a result, Payne saw nearly 10 minutes more than his season average controlling the larger share of minutes of the Florida big men with 25. (Castleton accounted for 19 minutes.)
Providing another spark Saturday with another complete performance around the basket at both ends of the floor, Payne compiled 10 points on 5-for-5 from the field, nine rebounds (four offensive), two blocks, and one steal to elevate Florida over their SEC foe.
With the rotation of these two, Florida could find itself contending with the SEC's heavyweights in the coming weeks. An impressive feat considering the roadblocks that have appeared in their path throughout the pandemic-riddled season.
Success on the boards continues
Probably the least flashy takeaway from the Gators victory over Georgia, but also the one that could sustain success down the line if the production can carry on: winning — and dominating — the rebounding battle.
As a major deficiency from the Gators throughout the large part of the season, Florida overcame their ranking as the 3rd worst rebounding team in the conference to command the boards on both ends of the court.
On the afternoon, the Gators outrebounded Georgia by 14, with six of those coming on the offensive end. Accumulating 41 total rebounds on the night — compared to Georgia’s 27 — the rebound differential was heavily skewed in Florida’s favor.
Utilizing the length that Payne provides to the UF lineup to secure nine rebounds in total — followed by Anthony Duruji and Mann on the stat sheet with six each — Florida would come down with a game-changing 16 offensive boards that would ultimately turn into 22 second-chance points.
As a result of their newfound rebounding ability, Florida has seemingly found their recipe for success in the 2020-21 season.
Just in time as the Gators push for a postseason bid.
Following their second victory in a row, Florida returns to the home to the O’Connell Center on Tuesday night with an opportunity to stretch their winning streak to three against the Vanderbilt Commodores. A team they have previously defeated this season.