A tale of two halves in Tallahassee.
The Florida Gators (3-1) took down the Florida State Seminoles (0-4) in Tallahassee on Friday night, 76-67.
However, after being upset by FAU on Monday night, the Gators' bounce-back win on the road took a concerted comeback attempt. In the first half, Florida dug itself a hole to head into the halftime break down by 17 points to the Noles.
The scoring droughts that have haunted the Gators in years past re-emerged in the first half as they started 3-for-20 (15%) from the field through the first 13 minutes of the contest.
The Noles, on the other hand, found their stride after three consecutive letdown performances to begin the season. They knocked down nearly 50% of their first-half shot attempts, going 15-for-31 from the field and 3-for-6 from beyond the arc.
FSU's scoring success was catalyzed by guard Darin Green Jr., the team's leading scorer through three games, as he proved to be a spark late in the first half for Leonard Hamilton's squad to take a 43-26 lead into the half against the Gators. He accounted for 12 points, including three triples in 17 minutes of play.
Two free throws by center Colin Castleton — who was constantly swarmed by Seminoles defenders in the first half when he touched the rock on the interior — with 6:56 remaining broke the seal on the basket for Florida in the first half as they used his trip to the charity stripe to attempt to surge back from the 13-point deficit they faced at the time. He followed that with a kick out to the perimeter to Kowacie Reeves Jr. for their first three-point make of the evening.
However, once the Gators started to gain momentum, albeit limited, Florida's uptick in production would take a difficult hit as forward Alex Fudge was called for a technical foul after dunking on and getting in the face of De'Ante Green.
That killed the slight momentum Florida created and resulted in a 12-6 run into the locker room for intermission.
When the two teams returned for the second half, the script flipped.
A noticeable rotation change to begin the second 20-minute period, which saw junior guard Trey Bonham take over at the two-guard spot while Will Richard slid down to the three spot and Reeves hit the bench, sparked the Gators.
Playing with greater intensity and overall energy in the opening stages of the second half than at any point in the first, Florida rattled off a 26-5 run behind the elevated backcourt's production.
Bonham was the difference in the second half as he got it done on the offensive end, knocking down a triple on the first possession out of the half before drawing a foul and knocking down two free throws a few plays later, as well as with his active hands and feet defensively. He fittingly hit a contested baseline floater to give Florida a lead at the 13:40 mark.
His impact was fittingly evident on the stat sheet as he finished with a Florida career-high 11 points, three assists, seven rebounds, two steals, one block and a team-leading plus/minus of 16 in 20 minutes of play.
That ignited the Gators' 50-24 scoring differential in the second half to erase a once 17-point deficit. They built an 11-point lead of their own with under 10 minutes remaining in the contest, highlighted by a Fudge poster jam over the 7-foot-4 center Naheem McLeod.
He followed that up a few minutes later with a block on the opposite end.
That embodied Florida's all-around two-way performance to complete the comeback heroics in Tallahassee. The unit forced 11 turnovers and shot at 52% from the field in the second half to
Despite the slow start, Castleton led the Gators in scoring on the night to post 25 points toward the 76-point total. Nineteen of those came in the second half.
The Gators received a crucial third victory the season despite the abysmal start to the contest, while Florida State dropped to 0-4 on the year.
The Gators will remain on the road over the next week as they head to Portland, Ore., for the Phil Knight Legacy tournament. First up on the schedule during that road trip is a rematch of last year's NIT second-round contest against Xavier on Thanksgiving Day.
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