UNF coach Matthew Driscoll declared Florida as a Final Four caliber team shortly after the No. 8 Gators dismantled the Ospreys 108-68 before 9,151 at the O’Connell Center.
To Florida coach Mike White, there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done.
“I appreciate his friendship and his faith in what we’re doing over here,” White said Thursday. “But my goodness, we’ve got to guard at a much higher level or rebound at a much higher level, guard without fouling.”
Offensively, though, it’s clear the Gators are a high-powered team that’s tough to guard. Junior guard KeVaughn Allen led six UF scorers in double figures with 18 points. Redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone had a bounce-back game with 14 points, while graduate transfer Egor Koulechov followed up his 34-point debut by filling up the stat sheet with 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Guards Deaundrae Ballard and Jalen Hudson each scored 12 points off the bench, while sophomore center Gorjok Gak, making his first career start, had a career-high 12 points, two assists and three steals.
“They can attack you scoring-wise from all five positions,” Driscoll said.
Florida (2-0), which knocked off Gardner-Webb 116-74 in the season opener Monday night, posted back-to-back 100-point games for the first time since the 2003-04 season. Florida beat Northeastern 101-84 on Dec. 22, 2003, then followed it up with a 109-63 win over Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 27.
After dishing 26 assists against Gardner-Webb, the Gators had 23 more assists against UNF (0-4) to just nine turnovers. The ball movement led to high-percentage baskets throughout the game, as Florida shot 56 percent from the field and 44 percent (11-25) from 3-point range. Senior point guard Chris Chiozza made his first start of the season and toyed with a triple-double with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists.
“We have really high skill level throughout our roster,” White said. “We have a high level of unselfishness right now. Knock on wood, we can maintain that level of unselfishness.”
Florida put the game away with an early 19-3 lead fueled by a four-point play from Koulechov and 3-pointers from Allen and Hudson. Stone ended the run with a dunk in transition, putting the Gators up 24-8.
Defensively, Florida locked down for a half, holding UNF to 26.9 percent from the field while scoring 10 points off turnovers to build a 45-23 halftime lead. Freshman guard Trip Day led UNF with 13 points.
“Our defensive intensity from the jump was better than the other night, was the best it’s been in my opinion,” White said. “And I think there’s a correlation of really getting out of your comfort zone on the defensive end and shots tonight not quite falling at the same clip. And that’s why we’ve got to maintain that level of defensive energy and intensity and condition ourselves to be able to execute offensively and make shots.”
In the second half, Florida continued to pull away. That allowed student-managers turned walk-ons Mark Krause and Andrew Fava to see time in the closing minutes, much to the delight of the remaining fans in attendance. Krause scored one point and Fava followed it up with four points on a pair of baskets.
“It’s cool for our team, because I think they’re proud of them,” White said. “It’s a good example, these guys, two weeks ago … they still are, they still haven’t relinquished their managerial duties. Making lunch runs for the staff … it’s big for our culture.”
FREE THROWS: White said Gak started ahead of center Kevarrius Hayes due to a “minor disciplinary issue.” Hayes had six points and four rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. … After playing trombone in UF’s pep band on Monday, former Florida forward Canyon Barry told the Gator Tipoff Club before the game he’s heading back overseas to play for a team in the Czech Republic. Barry was cut from a team in Finland earlier this fall.