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Payne filling in "Next-man up" mantra for Gators

Special to Gatorsports.com
Florida forward Omar Payne (5) celebrates Saturday after the Gators defeated Georgia, 92-84, in Athens, Ga.

The Florida men's basketball team produced two key wins this week, knocking off No. 6 Tennessee on Tuesday and grounding Georgia 92-84 on the road Saturday.

Playing a key role in both wins was sophomore Omar Payne, who scored 10 points (5-for-5), grabbed nine rebounds and had three blocked shots in 25 minutes of play Saturday. In the 75-49 win over the Volunteers, Payne responded to his first start with nine points on 4-for-5 from the floor, nine rebounds (five on the offensive end) and five blocked shots in a season-high 27 minutes.

"Omar will be the first one to tell you the reality — he's been given an opportunity," UF coach Mike White said of Payne, who started in place of injured Colin Castleton on Tuesday and again Saturday. "And sometimes you earn it and sometimes you get guys out. Sometimes guys roll an ankle. Sometimes a guy gets the cold. You always have to be ready, you have to continue to develop. And when opportunity comes, you take advantage. You handle it with maturity.

"We talked about it all year, Omar is a starter with the way we're playing. We haven't gone extra-big, if you will. Maybe we will, at some point. It's the epitome of character. He knows who he is, he's continued to work, he's got a good attitude. And while he's not getting everything that he wanted out of it individually, you celebrate wins, you love your teammates and you get better. Opportunity calls, you take advantage of it."

Payne's teammates know he has stepped up to fill a void.

"He's been playing huge for us," guard Tre Mann said. "We need him. We need that from everybody on our roster. Everybody on our roster is good at something and once they do what they're good at every time, then we'll be the best team that we can be. It's definitely a lot of help."

Noah Locke said, "It's about opportunity and, I think I said it last time, it's just a mentality thing. Just knowing in his head that he can do it and him coming out and telling himself and being confident within himself. It definitely carries over and it's been working for him for the last two games."

The Gators (8-4, 5-3 SEC) are back home Wednesday for a rematch against Vanderbilt (4-7, 0-5) starting at 6:30 p.m. on SEC Network.