3 takeaways from Florida Gators basketball team's victory at Georgia

Chris Starrs
Special to Gator Sports

ATHENS, Ga. — As an NCAA Tournament bubble team, Florida has little margin for error if it wants to go dancing this spring. And it would be difficult to imagine any scenario where the Gators would qualify without a victory over woebegone Georgia. 

On Saturday afternoon, Florida (18-11, 8-8 in SEC) took care of the first part of the equation with an 84-72 victory over the Bulldogs (6-23, 1-15), who have now lost nine consecutive games and didn’t post a single win in February.  

The trail figures to get a little tougher to traverse in the coming week when the Gators – who suffered a dispiriting home loss Tuesday against No. 18 Arkansas – play Tuesday at Vanderbilt (14-13, 6-9) and then close out the regular season next Saturday hosting No. 6 Kentucky (23-5, 12-3) ahead of the SEC Tournament, which begins March 9 in Tampa. 

There’s not much time to digest this game as the Gators have a compressed week in order to gauge where they’ve been and where they’re going. 

“We have the same mindset since my first day at Florida,” said Gators coach Mike White. “We’re going to watch this film very closely, we’re not going to harp on all the positives — we’re going to harp on some of the positives and we’re going to harp on some of the negatives. We’ll get back at it without a day off. We’ll go Sunday-Monday, leave Monday and prepare to take it one possession at a time at Nashville. We’re going to stay in the moment as a program.”

Saturday’s game represented a good one to grow on as Florida – playing without starting forward Anthony Duruji, out with an injured ankle – shook off a slow start and posted its sixth consecutive victory over Georgia and finished a tough month with a 5-4 mark, including a 63-62 victory over then-No. 2 Auburn on Feb. 19. 

It’s not known when Duruji, a senior averaging 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, will be able to return. C.J. Felder got the start in Duruji’s stead, playing 10 minutes with no points or rebounds. Florida’s biggest star off the bench was Brandon McKissic, who had six points and two assists in nearly 19 minutes of play. 

“Ant is dealing with some stuff with his body, so we know it’s the next man up,” said Phlandrous Fleming Jr. “It’s always been our motto ... Rooj was out, so we had to adjust. Hopefully, he will be back Tuesday. But, if not, next man up.” 

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The two teams were closely matched through most of the first 20 minutes as the Gators shot 50% from the field and committed just three turnovers; Georgia shot 45% and had only four miscues. The Bulldogs tied the score at 20-20 with 9:25 remaining on a layup by Aaron Cook, but Florida went on a 9-0 run – engineered in no small part by Fleming – to go up 29-20 before Georgia tallied 7 unanswered points.

Although Georgia outscored Florida 14-12 in the half’s last three minutes, the Gators took 41-34 lead into the locker room after Myreon Jones and Colin Castleton hit bank shots and Fleming popped a 3-pointer with 24 seconds left. Fleming’s trey was one of 14 made in the first 20 minutes — Florida shot  8 of 15 (53%) while Georgia was 6 of 15 (40%). 

The Gators broke the game open in the first minutes of the second half, going on a 10-0 run and taking a 51-34 lead at the 16:55 mark on a 3-pointer by Jones. After a clean first half, the Bulldogs committed three quick turnovers as Florida took control as the two teams basically matched baskets in the final 15 minutes. 

“We weren’t perfect defensively, but it’s easier said than done defending Georgia,” said White. “We’ve got to be better defensively, of course, but if we’re that good offensively…it was a pretty good offensive performance by us.” 

Playing in his hometown, Fleming led all scorers with 27 points. He was followed by Tyree Appleby (21 points, seven assists) and Myreon Jones (13 points). The Bulldogs’ bright spots came from sophomore Kario Oquendo (20 points, six rebounds) and graduate Braelen Bridges (16 points, 7 rebounds). Aaron Cook added 10 points and four assists for Georgia. 

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game: 

Power of the 3 

Florida came into Saturday’s game near the bottom of the SEC in 3-point shooting (30.5%) but more than proved its mettle beyond the arc, hitting 14 of 31 (45%). Five Gators recorded at least one trey in the first half with Jones, Tyree Applebee and Fleming hitting two each. 

The Gators’ best 3-point game this season came in a 70-68 loss to Maryland on Dec. 12 when they connected on 8 of 13 attempts (61.5%) but they’ve struggled a bit lately, making only 2 of 18 against Texas A&M, 5 of 14 against Auburn and 7 of 18 against Arkansas.

White pointed to center Colin Castleton as being critical in Florida’s success beyond the arc. 

“Credit Georgia throwing traffic at Colin, and Colin demands that, of course, with the way he’s developed,” said White of Castleton, who finished with a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds to go with five assists and no turnovers.  

“And Colin made good decisions. He only was credited with five assists but he had a bunch of kickouts and could have had more. I thought our paint touches and our inside-out looks got us going a little bit, and you know how it is when you get a couple early. Confidence is something that can spread.” 

In terms of raw points, Saturday’s game was Florida’s best 3-point outing. The Gators made 14 3-pointers, rivaled only by their 11-for-24 performance against Tennessee on Jan. 26 and a 10-for-27 night against Kentucky on Feb. 12. 

In terms of raw points, Saturday’s game was Florida’s best 3-point outing. The Gators had an 11-for-24 performance against Tennessee on Jan. 26 and a 10-for-27 night against Kentucky on Feb. 12. 

Appleby led the way behind the 3-point stripe, hitting 5 of 9 attempts.  

The Gators also recorded one of their lowest turnover totals of the season with six miscues to go with 20 assists. 

“When you go 20 and 6, you’ve got a chance to beat an SEC opponent,” said White. 

Phlantastic Phlandrous Fleming

Fleming, who signed with Florida in the offseason after a four-year career at Charleston Southern (where he averaged 15 points per game in 101 games) grew up in Athens and played at nearby Cedar Shoals High School.  

Fleming — who received a nice ovation during pregame introductions and said he had some 50 friends and family members in attendance — enjoyed a productive homecoming, recording a career-high 27 points with 5 rebounds and 4 assists, including a 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining. 

When asked about the warm greeting he received, Fleming said, “It felt amazing. My teammates asked me if I was going to get booed and I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ It felt amazing that a lot of people were out there.” 

Fleming spearheaded his team’s 9-0 run in the first half, scoring on a short jumper in the lane with 8:20 left, nailing a 3-pointer with 7:35 remaining and posting a rim-rattling jam after a Georgia turnover at 7:14. He also turned in a pretty assist for a Niels Lane dunk at the 3:30 mark and hit a 3-pointer with 24 seconds remaining to put the Gators up by 7 points at the half. 

“He made shots, he made plays, his intensity and level of competitiveness is no different — if we called a practice in an hour he’d be the same guy,” said White of Fleming. “That’s who he is. He was really locked in with his attention to detail, his focus and his decisions offensively. He epitomized it today — he didn’t make many mistakes.” 

Saturday represented only the second time the 6-foot-5 guard had played in the arena located just four miles from his alma mater, but it’s likely to be the game he’ll always remember. In 2017, Cedar Shoals played for the Georgia Class AAAAA state championship at Stegeman Coliseum but fell to Buford 75-61. 

“We lost our state championship in here,” said Fleming. “It’s great to get a win, but that Buford game was packed out. The crowd was rocking and I’ll never forget that feeling. And I’ll never forget this one.” 

Florida Gators guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (24) shoots over Georgia Bulldogs guard Aaron Cook (10) during the first half at Stegeman Coliseum.

Runaway train 

Disastrous is perhaps the best word to describe the season the Bulldogs have endured. The difficulties actually began after last season when nine Georgia players entered the transfer portal and the team began the 2021-22 campaign with nearly a dozen new faces. 

With games at No. 17 Tennessee on Tuesday and at home against Missouri next Saturday remaining Georgia is on pace to have its worst season in 66 years, when the Bulldogs went 3-21 overall and 1-13 in the SEC. 

Georgia has also experienced off-the-court challenges, most notably when an assistant coach and a staff member got in a halftime altercation on Feb. 16 at LSU. Head coach Tom Crean is probably done at the conclusion of the season and it will be time to start all over again. Crean, who previously coached at Indiana and Marquette, is 47-72 overall and 15-55 in SEC play during his time at Georgia. 

The Bulldogs held their own against Florida in the first half, but a combination of early turnovers and a couple of 3-pointers doomed Georgia to yet another loss in a season best left forgotten. 

“We expected to win today,” said Crean. “You can’t – the way they work and the way we prepare, and we’re not working and preparing like a team that’s won one game. Unfortunately, we have, that's all we’ve won.  

“As I say to these guys, the more adversity kicks in the harder it is to fight it off, but you have to fight it off. You have to fight the mentality and all those things off if you want to be successful in life.”