Cold start, hot finish for No. 6 Gators in season opener

Florida sophomore guard Andrew Nembhard goes in for a layup Tuesday in the opening game of the season against North Florida at the Exactech Arena. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. provided a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, sophomore Noah Locke added 14 points of his own and the Florida men’s basketball team opened the highly anticipated 2019-20 season Tuesday night with a 74-59 win over North Florida in the O’Connell Center.

Although for several stretches, the Gators didn’t quite do justice to their lofty preseason No. 6 ranking.

Attribute it to early season jitters, or to a roster still adjusting to the presence of nine new faces, but the Gators were initially slow out of the gate on the offensive end, as they shot just 3-for-16 over the first 10 minutes of the game. 

The five freshmen who played, that was their first game. So we’ve got a ways to go. None of us expect to be a great team in November, we just don’t. We’re striving to be. If we are, wow. That means we’re really good. But we’re not really good,” fifth-year UF coach Mike White said. “I hope we can be, I don’t know that we will be. I like to optimistically think we could be very good by February, hopefully earlier than that.”

After trailing the Ospreys, 8-5, in the early going, Florida began to run in transition and capitalize on 12 first-half turnovers by UNF, and soon the Gators responded with a 21-2 run over the next 8:26 of action. 

UF would take a 39-22 lead into the halftime break, and the Gators looked much more cohesive on both ends in the early going of the second half. 

Yet with the under-16 timeout came a noticeably drop-off in intensity, said White, resulting in UNF outscoring the Gators 37-35 in the second half. 

“(We) lost intensity level, probably four minutes into the second half. I’m not sure we ever really regained it. We’ve been outscored in the second half by Lynn and North Florida,” White said. “I told our guys in the locker room after the game, we will evaluate after every practice and after every game in terms of how many guys we can play. I’m not sure we can play 10, I’m not sure we can play 11 or even nine. We might continue to have drop-offs, which might mean we need to change our tempo a little bit. Everyone’s learning about themselves right now.”

Freshman Tre Mann, a Gainesville native who estimated he had nearly 40 friends and family in attendance, contributed 11 points and four rebounds, while Omar Payne added six points, five rebounds and six blocks in 13 minutes. 

I feel like my biggest strength is really bringing a motor, hype up the team,” Payne said, “and catch rebounds, dunk the ball, set screens, be a good teammate.”

Fellow first-year player Scottie Lewis provided nine points and five rebounds despite dealing with a leg cramp. 

“I like how hard he played. He’s got to clean up decisions of course, like most freshmen. I liked his shot selection,” White said of Lewis. “Did some good things. Liked his activity, played hard.” 

While Florida’s highly touted freshmen class is much of the reason the Gators opened the season with a No. 6 ranking in the Associated Press Top-25 poll, UF’s trio of sophomores seem set to provide much of the leadership in the early going — although, aside from Locke, that wasn’t the case Tuesday.

Andrew Nembhard shot just 1-for-7 from the floor, although he would dish four assists, while Keyontae Johnson added seven points and seven rebounds. 

UF shot 42-percent from the field despite a 3-for-15 performance from the three-point line.

The Gators return to their home court Sunday for a 1 p.m. match-up with Florida State. 

“Definitely we’ve got to beat them,” said Payne of UF’s impending match-up with the ‘Noles. “We’re on a losing streak to them, so we definitely have to come out in practice and lock it in.”


Aminu 3-5 1-4 8, Hendricksen 3-9 0-0 8, Escobar 5-11 2-2 15, Gandia-Rosa 2-9 0-0 6, Sams 4-15 3-4 14, Endicott 3-3 0-0 6, James 1-2 0-0 2, Balogun 0-1 0-0 0, Adedoyin 0-0 0-0 0, Burkhardt 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 21-58 6-10 59.


Johnson 3-7 1-2 7, Blackshear 8-11 3-3 20, Locke 5-12 2-2 14, Mann 5-11 1-2 11, Nembhard 1-7 0-0 2, Bassett 0-2 2-2 2, Payne 2-3 2-2 6, Jitoboh 1-2 1-3 3, Glover 0-4 0-0 0, Lewis 4-10 1-2 9. Totals 29-69 13-18 74.

Halftime_Florida 39-22. 3-Point Goals_North Florida 11-32 (Sams 3-8, Escobar 3-8, Hendricksen 2-4, Gandia-Rosa 2-7, Aminu 1-1, James 0-1, Burkhardt 0-3), Florida 3-14 (Locke 2-7, Blackshear 1-1, Glover 0-1, Mann 0-1, Lewis 0-2, Nembhard 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_North Florida 33 (Hendricksen 7), Florida 43 (Blackshear 10). Assists_North Florida 13 (Gandia-Rosa 7), Florida 15 (Nembhard 4). Total Fouls_North Florida 18, Florida 16.


  1. Defense looked better than offense but you can tell the team has a lot of talent. Just need to get more comfortable playing together. FSU will provide a much tougher test on Sunday. Will be interesting to see if we can break the streak they have on us right now.

  2. i OFFER these comments as a former bball coach for 30 years.

    1. The extended 3 pt. line this year will affect many teams that wanted to rely on the trey. If Florida is at 20 percent shooting threes, White should restrict those shots to the corner, where the distance is shorter by about 2 feet. In short, ditch the 3 point shot as part of the offense.

    2. The rotation can only be 7 or 8 players.

    3. Nembhard cannot play the point and keep shooting 1 for 7. He must limit his shots to inside 15 feet or stop shooting and just be a set-up point guard. He still must dribble-drive-pass or shoot the layup.

    All that said, it was only the first game. Let’s see what happens vs. FSU. I think White hinted at a change in the rotation and the offensive setups.

    • Good points and I agree about the 3-point range selection. However, is putting limits on the 3-point range practical? Guys with NBA aspirations want to develop their NBA 3-point range while in college, and show off to the scouts what they can do. Whether they are successful or not is another story. I doubt limiting their display of long range skills will go over very well with the current players and potential recruits. Perhaps a better tactic is to give them individually the freedom until the stats show that they are hurting their stock and the team.