COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Florida basketball coach Mike White had seen flashes of high-level play from redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone in recent practices.
The 6-foot-8 Stone was able to translate that onto the court Tuesday night in UF’s 83-66 win over No.11 Texas A&M. Stone finished with a career-high 18 points while also setting career bests in field goals made (seven) and 3-pointers made (four).
“Happy that he was able to help his teammates,” White said. “Just as important, happy for him. He’s really paid his dues.”
White said Stone had gotten off to a slow start this season not just in games, but in practices as well. That resulted in Stone bouncing in and out of the starting lineup throughout November and early December.
“The last three weeks he’s had a renewed work level, motor level, competitiveness level,” White said. “He’s really been one of our best two or three players in terms of production in practice over the last, I would say three to four weeks now, and it’s come to fruition for him.”
Stone made three of his four 3-pointers in the first half, helping the Gators jump to a 46-30 halftime lead.
“My teammates have been giving me confidence,” Stone said. “They tell me to shoot. They believe I can shoot, so I might as well just shoot.”
Texas A&M gave Stone open looks from the perimeter early. In the second half, Stone was able to mix up his offensive game, scoring on a driving baseline dunk off a shot fake and on some mid-range jumpers as well.
“Stone shooting the ball as well as he did was obviously a big impact,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “When you’ve got a post guy who can step up and out to make shots, he made four threes and he wasn’t averaging 18 points a game coming in here. That was a big lift for them.”
Stone reached double figures for just the second time this season and the first time since scoring 14 points against North Florida on Nov. 16. It was Stone’s highest-scoring output since his prior career high, 17 points, on Jan. 14, 2017 against Georgia. Florida is looking for Stone to step up and fill the stretch power forward role that has been a staple of UF’s offense — from Matt Bonner to Erik Murphy to Dorian Finney-Smith to Justin Leon last season.
“Being able to step out and shoot the three and just make defenses switch what their gameplan is, it’s a different wrinkle in the offense for us,” Stone said. “Knowing that we can shoot the ball, teams have got to adjust to us.”
Stone and junior center Kevarrius Hayes (eight points, seven rebounds, five blocks, four assists) also helped defensively inside to help keep Texas A&M frontcourt standouts Tyler Davis and Robert Williams in check. Davis was held to 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting, while Williams had 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
“The mindset was make it tough on them, don’t let them get easy dunks, don’t let them get lobs, don’t let them tuck in on us and turn around and shoot layups all day,” Stone said.
The Gators provided support for Stone and Hayes by collapsing defenders into the post. But White credited Hayes and Stone for providing a good first line of defense.
“They played their butts off,” White said. “Those two guys demand max effort, in terms of defending them and rebounding with them and that’s obviously not been our strength. Our interior defense and our interior rebounding, especially defensively, we did enough.”
FREE THROWS: White improved to 7-12 against ranked teams during his UF tenure. White, however, is 6-2 in his last eight games against ranked teams. … With five blocks against Texas A&M, Hayes moved into 10th on UF’s all-time blocked shots list with 111 blocks, passing David Lee (109 career blocks).
Who: Florida vs. Missouri
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Mizzou Arena, Columbia, Mo.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850