Leon's 'best game' helps Gators roll Cavaliers

Florida forward Kevarrius Hayes (13), right, and guard Kasey Hill (0) cheer Justin Leon (23), during the second half of the second-round game against Virginia in the NCAA tournament in Orlando, Fla.

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Published: Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 19, 2017 at 12:16 a.m.

ORLANDO -- Blame it on the T-shirt.

Justin Leon did. Kind of.

The Florida senior said he stopped wearing his trademark T-shirt under his jersey for Saturday night's game against Virginia.

“I was trying to find something different,” he said. “I was like maybe if I take off my undershirt, I would probably make some more shots. So I did it and hey.”

Hey, indeed.

Leon's three big 3-point shots, one late in the first half and two early in the second, were part of a 21-0 run that allowed Florida to distance itself from Virginia and roll to a 65-39 win in the NCAA second-round game at the Amway Center.

He finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds -- his first career double-double -- and played great defense on the other end, according to UF coach Mike White.

“This was his best defensive effort as well,” White said. “I can't think of one glaring mistake that he made. I can't remember him getting straight line driven. I can't remember him missing a block out. He was really sound.

“In midseason, he was being yanked in and out a little bit. He was rebounding and making shots, actually at a higher clip, but he wasn't defending like he is now. So tonight was his best game as a Gator.”

Leon had been struggling with his shot of late, making only seven of his last 25 3-point attempts.

So he went to work.

“I think my shot was just kind of off,” Leon said. “I didn't think I had my technique. Coach White, he watched me shoot in practice and he told me little things I could do to fix my form back.”

Even when he was struggling, Leon brought energy to the Florida team.

“He brought the energy on defense so he deserved to knock down all the shots he did,” said forward Devin Robinson, who also had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. “He got us going and we kept going and fed off his energy, his passion.”

Leon has played with passion all year, but has been stepping it up with the end of his college career in sight.

“I'm known to give my teammates energy,” he said. “That's kind of one of my roles. I guess this really wasn't nothing new. I guess today it was about knocking down a couple of shots but most of the time it's just me playing hard.”

That's what White was looking for when he brought Leon in from junior college -- a guy who would play so hard that it would rub off on his teammates.

“It's amazing how far the guy has come,” White said. “It's amazing.”

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