At halftime of Florida’s basketball game against Georgia on Wednesday night, Mike White read his team the riot act.
The Gators responded by allowing a wide-open 3 to fall behind by 18 points.
Right away, White went to a 1-3-1 defense.
Florida responded by allowing an uncontested dunk.
Down 21, White called a timeout and pulled three starters.
That didn’t help either.
Finally, something clicked for Team Weird. It might have been the 3-2 zone although White admitted at that point it was simply “the next thing to throw against the wall.”
More likely, it was a pair of sophomores who took over the second half and led Florida to another amazing rally. From down 22 to up 10, the Gators held off Georgia at the end for much-needed 81-75 win with a 55-point second half.
It tied the largest comeback in UF history and was the second comeback win of 20 or more points this season.
Andrew Nembhard scored a career-high 25 points, including 14 of UF’s last 17 points. Keyontae Johnson scored 15 points, 13 of them in the second half.
“(White) asked us if we were scared,” Johnson said of the halftime speech. “Why come here if you don’t want to be on the big stage? He called us soft. I took that personally.”
It was Nembhard who took control at the end, basically clinching the win for Florida with a steal and dunk with 21.6 second to play.
“It’s not an easy thing to explain,” Nembhard said of another roller-coaster ride for this basketball team. “I’ve never played with a team like this. I’d rather be up 20.”
Instead, Florida found itself down 15 at the half and it didn’t get better early in the second half.
But the comeback started with an unlikely made shot in the paint by freshman Jason Jitoboh, only his seventh basket of the year. From there, the Gators kept chipping away, finally taking the lead on a Nembhard three 59-57.
Florida extended the lead to 69-59, completing a 39-7 second-half run, before Georgia took one last swing at the Gators. A Scottie Lewis blocked shot of a layup attempt by Sahvir Wheeler (16 points) with 39 seconds to go and Florida up four was one of the many huge plays in the final minutes.
“That block really hurt us,” said Georgia coach Tom Crean.
The Bulldogs did get 32 points from likely NBA lottery pick Anthony Edwards — who amplified several makes by taunting the UF bench — but only two field goals from him in the final 15 minutes.
Florida got 12 points from Kerry Blackshear Jr. and 11 from freshman Tre Mann.
“This was Tre Mann’s best game,” White said. “Not only scoring but taking two charges.”
Florida is now 14-8 and 6-3 in the SEC. Georgia fell to 12-10 and 2-7 in the conference.
“We gotta stop this trend,” Nembhard said of Florida’s inconsistent season.
It was a surprise to White, after a win at Vanderbilt last Saturday night, that his team found itself in another huge hole at home.
“We’re very emotional as a team,” he said. “We had some good looks in the first half and the shots weren’t going in and Edwards is hitting some big shots and all of a sudden Georgia is playing harder than us on our own court.
“But we got our mojo back defensively.”
Georgia shot 37.5 percent in the second half after shooting 54.8 percent in the first half. Conversely, the Gators were 7-of-11 from 3 in the second half after a 2-for-12 first half.
Florida hits the road Saturday for a game at Ole Miss at 2 p.m on ESPN 2. Florida beat Ole Miss 71-55 on Jan. 15 at home, but the Rebels were playing without injured star Breein Tyree in that game.
Ole Miss beat South Carolina 84-70 Wednesday night as Tyree scored a career-high 38 points.
Camara 2-7 0-0 4, Hammonds 4-11 0-2 9, Edwards 10-17 6-7 32, Harris 1-4 0-0 2, Wheeler 6-8 4-4 16, Crump 0-1 0-0 0, Gresham 1-1 0-0 3, Fagan 0-0 0-0 0, Peake 0-2 1-2 1, Brown 2-4 2-3 8. Totals 26-55 13-18 75.
Blackshear 3-6 5-8 12, Johnson 5-10 3-3 15, Lewis 1-5 2-2 4, Locke 3-10 0-0 7, Nembhard 10-16 4-5 25, Mann 4-10 0-0 11, Payne 1-2 0-0 2, Glover 1-1 0-0 3, Jitoboh 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 29-61 14-18 81.
Halftime_Georgia 41-26. 3-Point Goals_Georgia 10-25 (Edwards 6-10, Brown 2-3, Gresham 1-1, Hammonds 1-6, Crump 0-1, Harris 0-2, Peake 0-2), Florida 9-23 (Mann 3-7, Johnson 2-3, Blackshear 1-1, Glover 1-1, Locke 1-4, Nembhard 1-5, Lewis 0-2). Fouled Out_Camara, Blackshear. Rebounds_Georgia 27 (Edwards 6), Florida 32 (Lewis 9). Assists_Georgia 7 (Wheeler 4), Florida 8 (Nembhard 3). Total Fouls_Georgia 16, Florida 15.