Florida routs Stetson in home opener

Graham Hall
Florida basketball writer
Florida forward Colin Castleton shoots a midrange jumper in the first half Sunday against Stetson in Exactech Arena at the O'Connell Center.

Keyontae Johnson had 19 points, Noah Locke added 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting from long range and the Gators improved to 3-0 with a 86-40 win over Stetson in UF’s home opener Sunday at the O’Connell Center. 

“We played harder. Definitely more attention to detail than last week, so we took a step,” UF coach Mike White said. “We certainly did some good things, but we’re far from where we need to be.”

As Florida did during the two-game stretch at Bubbleville in Mohegan Sun, the Gators came out the gate sluggish and would start 1 for 8 from the field. But Stetson wasn’t much better — a credit to Florida’s defensive pressure — and the Hatters (0-3) would finish 3 for 26 from the field in the first half. 

UF would take a 34-15 lead into the halftime break despite shooting an unimpressive 12-of-32 from the field, giving White opportunities to both experiment with rotations and develop the program’s newcomers regardless of the inefficiency on offense.

Stetson went almost 17 minutes without a field goal between the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, as Florida forced the Hatters into 23 turnovers to just 11 by the Gators.

When UF's lead reached 46 with more than three minutes to play, White capitalized on the opportunity to get walk-ons Alex Klatsky and Jack May into the game. 

The Gators have six days to prepare before traveling to Tallahassee to battle No. 22-ranked Florida State Saturday at 11 a.m.

What we learned

Florida saw early glimpses of its pieces of the future in Sunday’s showing as all of the team’s new additions saw the court. 

After missing Florida’s trip to Mohegan Sun, Osayi Osifo would play 19 minutes against the Hatters in his first Division I appearance, and he’d finish the game with a lone point while missing his one attempt from the field.

Freshman Niels Lane, who didn’t play in the comeback against Army and played just seven minutes in UF’s victory over Boston College, got into the game far sooner against the Hatters. 

Lane would register a rebound and an assist in his four minutes of first-half action, and the second half saw the freshman guard chip in six points on 2-for-5 shooting. 

Samson Ruzhentsev would score five points on 1-for-4 shooting in his collegiate scoring debut, his lone make coming on a three-point attempt. 

“Nice to see those guys do some things,” White said. “Our two freshmen in Samson and Niels Lane, they did some good things. Niels got up the floor a little bit and created some havoc defensively, got to the offensive glass a little bit. Samson can really stretch you at times. It was nice to see it going through the net one time for him. 

“Osayi, as I’ve talked about a lot, he didn’t get a ton done, but he didn’t surprise either. With his energy level and his motor, he’s a guy that anytime, between the lines he just plays really hard.”

Locke bounces back

There were high expectations for junior shooting guard Noah Locke coming into the season, for good reason, too. 

Locke started much of the last two seasons at the two-spot despite being hampered by a lingering sports hernia, and offseason surgery was supposed to alleviate his pain and subsequently allow his athleticism to return. 

While that may be the case, that didn’t immediately translate to sizable scoring numbers at Mohegan Sun — although as Locke revealed Sunday, it may have been due to no fault of his own. 

The Baltimore native said the basketball was overinflated at Bubbleville — not exactly the best-case scenario for sharpshooters. 

On top of that, the playing surface was peculiar, Locke said. 

“There was a lot of different factors that went into it. I didn’t shoot the ball very well, but I just kept shooting,” Locke said. “It was a Spalding ball that was pumped up really hard, and it had no type of feel to it, it would just slip out of your hand. Nobody (liked it), and then the floor was like, hard. It was a tough one, but we had to play with it.”

Numbers say Gators at their best with Lewis

He may not be necessarily lighting it up from an offensive standpoint, but there’s little doubt as to whether or not sophomore Scottie Lewis is positively impacting the Gators in the early going. 

Lewis finished the game with 10 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 25 minutes of action Sunday — but his all-around impact was further defined once again by his plus/minus total. 

The Gators were an eye-popping plus-43 with Lewis on the court, marking the second consecutive contest where Lewis led UF in the category. In Florida’s 90-70 victory Thursday over Boston College, Lewis finished with a plus-29, meaning Florida has outscored the opposition by 72 points over the last two games in the 57 minutes Lewis has played. 

“I thought he was really good. I haven’t seen a plus/minus like this,” White said of Lewis’ performance. “You’re plus-43 and you take five shots, you’re playing hard. You’re playing with energy, and it spreads. And he’s continuing to improve, of course he’s got a ways to go, but I like the unselfishness from him more than anything from him. I thought he made some really good passes in transition.”

Press defense continues to show improvement

Florida went away from the press defense in the second half of the season-opener against Army, for good reason too as UF rallied for a 76-69 victory. 

In the next game against Boston College, the Gators had more success running it, but it was far from perfect. 

Against Stetson, White and the Gators utilized it more than they had in the previous two contests, begging the question if Florida had improved at running the full-court press in the five days since battling down to the wire in the win over Army. 

“I think Army was the best at getting downhill through the press, so the next two opponents, I think it was a little bit more effective, a little bit more productive. Today probably even more so than BC,” White said. “I thought our guys were eager to play at home, and played with a really high level of energy.”

Florida 86, Stetson 40

STETSON (0-3)

Kabimba 0-2 1-2 1, Diawara 0-5 1-2 1, Johnston 3-11 2-3 10, Jones 1-2 0-0 2, Perry 3-14 6-7 13, Swenson 0-5 0-0 0, Valdez 1-3 4-4 6, Lamar 1-4 0-2 2, Smith 0-3 1-2 1, Panzo 1-2 0-0 3, Hollmann 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 0-0 1-2 1, Wuor 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 10-51 16-24 40.

FLORIDA (3-0)

Castleton 3-4 1-2 7, Johnson 7-13 5-5 19, Lewis 2-5 6-6 10, Locke 5-7 0-0 15, Mann 3-8 2-2 10, Appleby 0-2 2-3 2, Payne 2-4 0-0 4, Glover 1-4 2-2 5, Ruzhentsev 2-6 0-0 5, Lane 2-5 2-2 6, Osifo 0-1 1-2 1, Duruji 1-2 0-0 2, Jitoboh 0-0 0-0 0, Klatsky 0-1 0-0 0, May 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-62 21-24 86.

Halftime_Florida 34-15. 3-Point Goals_Stetson 4-22 (Johnston 2-7, Panzo 1-1, Perry 1-6, Jones 0-1, Kabimba 0-1, Smith 0-1, Valdez 0-1, Lamar 0-2, Swenson 0-2), Florida 9-24 (Locke 5-6, Mann 2-4, Glover 1-2, Ruzhentsev 1-5, Duruji 0-1, Klatsky 0-1, Lane 0-1, Appleby 0-2, Lewis 0-2). Fouled Out_Perry, Duruji. Rebounds_Stetson 29 (Lamar 10), Florida 39 (Lewis 9). Assists_Stetson 6 (Swenson 3), Florida 17 (Lewis 6). Total Fouls_Stetson 21, Florida 24.

Up next

Who: Florida at Florida State

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

TV: TBA

Radio: Gator Sports Network

Florida guard Tre Mann attempts a fall-away layup in the first half Sunday against Stetson at the O'Connell Center.