Noah Locke knew what was coming. He had been inserted into the game during a timeout and he knew Alabama was going to run the same play that had worked successfully three times in a row Saturday.
In hindsight, said Alabama coach Nate Oats, “maybe I should have done something different.”
Instead, the steal and ensuing layup was the biggest play in a game full of crazy.
Florida trailed by as many as 21 points in the first half. After cutting into the lead with a strong finish to the first half and strong start to the second, the Gators again fell behind by double digits more than once.
“We were about dead in the water a couple of different times,” said Florida coach Mike White.
But his team never stopped chipping away at the Alabama (7-6, 0-1 SEC) lead and finally, it came down to this — an inbounds play with 23 seconds to go and UF down by two.
“They put me in for that play,” Locke said. “I saw it and I was able to go underneath it. It was a lob pass, really.”
With an O’Connell Center crowd of 9,350 squealing in delight, Locke went right to basket for the tying shot.
“I knew he was going to try to block it, so I tried to get it up quick,” said the sophomore guard.
White said after the steal he was thinking about calling a timeout, but by then Locke had already laid the ball into the basket.
Florida (9-4, 1-0 SEC) still had to survive a three-point try by a team that made 13 on the night, still had to overcome the emotional letdown of thinking it had won in OT before a putback by Kerry Blackshear Jr. that was waved off as being too late, still had to make free throws in the second overtime.
But Florida did all of those things and finished off the biggest comeback in school history with a 104-98 double overtime win in the SEC opener.
“It was a grind,” said UF sophomore guard Andrew Nembhard, who had a career high 25 points.
The second overtime came down to late free throws, all six made with less than a minute to go. Scottie Lewis made two and then Nembhard and then Blackshear.
And then Florida had a madly needed victory.
“This game showed our culture and how well we can play together,” said Lewis.
Florida won because it made 30-of-36 free throws and because of that late run at the end of the first half and because it didn’t let the disaster that was much of the first half ruin the night.
“It wasn’t that bad (at halftime),” Nembhard said. “(White) was just telling us what we needed to do.”
They had to keep shoveling the dirt of the grave that was this game. The 21-point deficit was one thing, but down eight with under two minutes to play is almost as impressive.
Keyontae Johnson made a 3 and with 37 seconds to play it was Nembhard getting a three-point play on a twisting drive. Florida still trailed by five when Blackshear made a 3 with 25.2 seconds to go to set up the wild finish.
“They had some guys step up,” Oats said.
And they had a coach step out onto the floor in anger after a call in the second half that resulted in a technical. It may or may not have inspired the Gators to see their coach so angry.
“Mike gets banged for a ‘T’ and 15 of the next 20 calls go their way,” said Oats. “He knows what he’s doing.”
Because the teams played 50 minutes, the statistics were ridiculous. Alabama had six players score in double figures and three foul out. John Petty led the way with 19.
Florida had three players record double-doubles. Blackshear had 24 points and 16 rebounds despite playing the last 11-plus minutes and both overtimes with four fouls.
Lewis had 15 points in 10 rebounds coming off the bench after missing the last game in concussion protocol. Johnson had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
And Florida has a 1-0 record in SEC play.
“We’re a team that’s still not sure of themselves right now,” White said. “I’m hoping at some point we’re going to be sure of ourselves.”
Florida continues SEC play with the first of two straight road games on Tuesday, when UF faces South Carolina at 7 p.m. on ESPNU. It will be the SEC opener for the Gamecocks (8-5), who last played Monday night.
Notes: The previous largest comeback was 18 points, accomplished 2/14/07 vs. Alabama and 2/24/93 at South Carolina.
*The Gators trailed by 14 at halftime, tied for the largest home halftime comeback in school history (14 vs. Vanderbilt, 12/18/67, 74-72 final). The Gators have overcome larger halftime deficits on two occasions: 18, at South Carolina, 2/24/93, 80-73 final; 15 at Jacksonville, 12/26/73, 64-62 final.
*Nembhard scored 15 of his career-high 25 points after the 5:00 mark in the second half.
*The Gators have scored 100 points in back-to-back games for the first time since doing so vs. Stanford and Gonzaga, both at Portland in Nov. 2017.
Gators 104, Crimson Tide 98, 2 OT
K.Lewis 7-26 1-2 17, Jones 5-9 5-8 15, Petty 6-14 3-4 19, Bolden 3-9 7-8 15, Shackelford 4-10 0-0 11, Reese 3-4 6-8 14, Davis 0-0 0-2 0, Smith 3-4 1-2 7. Totals 31-76 23-34 98.
Locke 6-9 4-7 18, Nembhard 8-20 8-9 25, Blackshear 6-13 10-11 24, K.Johnson 3-5 2-2 10, S.Lewis 5-12 6-6 17, Payne 2-6 0-0 4, Glover 3-11 0-1 6, Mann 0-1 0-0 0, Bassett 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 33-79 30-36 104.
Halftime_Alabama 46-32. 3-Point Goals_Alabama 13-34 (Petty 4-10, Shackelford 3-5, Reese 2-3, Bolden 2-7, K.Lewis 2-9), Florida 8-24 (K.Johnson 2-3, Blackshear 2-5, Locke 2-5, S.Lewis 1-3, Nembhard 1-5, Glover 0-3). Fouled Out_Jones, Davis. Rebounds_Alabama 42 (Jones 10), Florida 50 (Blackshear 16). Assists_Alabama 12 (Jones 5), Florida 11 (Nembhard 5). Total Fouls_Alabama 29, Florida 20.
Great article Pat! This turned out to be one of those games where you wish you had been there. I know I do! The Gators needed this game, because despite the way they played today, Alabama appears to be a mediocre team according to record and schedule. Gators have to win the ones they’re supposed to in order to have a shot at the Dance.
Just minor corrections, but it was Lewis, not Blackshear, who was late with the OT putback, and Payne’s shot, thought ill-advised, was not a 3.
My bad, Pat. Chris Harry says it was Blackshear with the slightly late putback. You had the better seat and you were right.
It took this team all of non-conference and 3/4 of an SEC game to finally figure out that they are not a jump shooting team. When they finally copied Alabama by taking it to basket, making contact, and take advantage of a tightly officiated game, they were finally able to generate a consistent offense. Then they almost gave it all away by starting the second overtime regressing back to 3 consecutive missed jump shots. However, they came to their senses and started to taking it to the basket again that resulted in a win.
This team doesn’t have a consistent jump shot threat. So forget about dribbling and passing around the perimeter for the first 20 seconds of the shot clock. Let Nembhard, Lewis, and Johnson take turns taking it to the hole. Once in awhile, they can kick out to Blackshear for a three.
Great win! Hope this is the spark they needed to turn the season around.
Good take, Sly. And yet (😉), they did shoot 33.333% from 3-point range, which is equivalent to 50% from 2-point range. That’s a good tradeoff, but as you said, they haven’t been able to do it consistently.
I’m with you on the driving. Those three do it quite well, and good things happen when they do. Seems Lewis is starting to hit his FT’s now, so we don’t have to cringe when he steps to the line. I think a bit faster tempo will also help.
Maybe this is that spark!
Great that they won, but watching them is painful because all they do is give the ball to someone else and then watch him go one-on-one while everyone else stands around. It would be nice if each of them driving to the basket could actually go one-on-one and not have to face two or three defenders every time. That happens because the shooter has not received the ball after moving but takes it at the top of the key and then has to do it all by himself. Last night’s game proved that if you are going to play one-on-one, you better let Nembhard do it a lot more because he is the only one who can from the outside. Until last night, he has never shot enough. In the kind of game they play, without no movement without the ball, only Nembhard and Blackshear are reliable threats. I really wish that I knew whether they play that static game because they don’t have the experience to play a running game or whether MIke White has them play the way they do because he doesn’t believe they can move without the ball and do it well. The fact was last night that the Alabama guards and small forwards were a lot quicker than the Gator defenders and were able to beat them on the dribble again and again going to the basket. But, having said all of that I have to give the Gators’ an enormous amount of credit for heart and determination. Almost any other team would have quit when down by 21. Congrats guys, but try running without the ball, pleeeeaze.
I’ll have to admit I had given up on them this game, emotionally speaking, but like Jimmy V said “never ever give up” . How could I have forgotten that? I need to take that to heart in everything I do, including watching my beloved Gators.
Really happy for the team. Mann is still struggling. I thought he was coming around but he digressed this game. I have confidence in him though. Go Gators – keep fighting!
The play of the game for me was Noah Locke’s steal, and lay in on a Bama inbound pass. The Gators got the best of Bama in rebounding, but Florida lost the 3 point battle. And against a better team, well, that could be a loss, so…
Go Gators! Just gel!
Unlike UF’s history, they dont play defense. That was always the Gators M.O.. You wear yourself out trying to outscore your opponent if you dont play defense. I guess White just cant get them to do it with skill, yet.