BASKETBALL

Florida basketball: 3 takeaways from the Gators' 89-51 rout of Stetson

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
Florida Gators forward Alex Fudge (3) drives down the court in the first half. The Florida menÕs basketball team hosted the Stetson Hatters at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. OÕConnell Center in Gainesville, FL on Sunday, December 4, 2022. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

Florida put forth its best effort on both ends of the floor since its season opener against Stony Brook in an 89-51 win over Stetson on Sunday afternoon at the O'Connell Center.

The return of sophomore guard Will Richard, who sat out Florida's last game with a knee injury, sparked the offense. Richard scored 14 points, going a perfect 5 for 5 from the floor and 4 for 4 from 3-point range.

Richard led five scorers in double figures. Forward Kowacie Reeves added 14 points, Alex Fudge and Colin Castleton each had 11 points and guard Trey Bonham had a sold all-around floor game with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

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But it was Florida's defense that set the tone throughout the game. The Gators held Stetson to 29.6 percent shooting in the first half to build a 33-22 halftime lead. In the second half, Florida didn't let up, limiting the Hatters, coached by former Florida assistant Donnie Jones, to 33.3 percent shooting for the game.

"This was the first time all year out there where I felt like this is what our team should really look like," first-year Florida coach Todd Golden said. "In the sense of, our guys did an excellent job of executing what we wanted them to, specifically on the defensive end."

Here are three takeaways from the win:

Florida takes away the perimeter

The Gators were solid throughout on defense, particularly on the perimeter, where they held Stetson to 4 of 17 shooting from 3-point range. The Hatters entered the game shooting 40.0 percent on 3-pointers on the season.

"Stetson really concerned me coming into the game," Golden said. "They were a top 10 offensive efficiency team in the country to this point."

Golden made an adjustment this week in not having as many players crash the offensive boards, which has allowed the Gators to pick up more shooters in transition. Florida has been burned allowing perimeter 3-pointers early this season. Entering the Stetson matchup, Florida had allowed opposing teams to shoot 37.9 percent from beyond the arc.

"I would say it was just executing the scout," Richard said. "We knew they were a really good 3-point shooting so just running them off the line, getting them to try to finish over us in the middle."

Crisp ball movement by the Gators

Florida shared the ball well on offense, with 14 of its 28 baskets coming off assists. Myreon Jones had 5 assists in 19 minutes off the bench, with Bonham dishing four assists and Castleton continuing his strong interior passing with 3 assists.

Stetson came out in a 2-3 zone defense. After settling for 3-pointers early, Florida did a better job following the first TV time out attacking the zone with better ball movement.

The Gators were able to move the ball effectively despite being without starting point guard Kyle Lofton for the second straight game due to back spasms. Florida had nine turnovers in the first half but settled down in the second with just two turnovers to finish with 11 turnovers for the game.

"We're a little unconventional what we are running and how we're playing but at the same time we're taking care of the ball," Golden said. "If we can take care of it, we're going to be alright."

Fudge moves into starting lineup

Fudge, coming off his first career double-double against Florida A&M, was rewarded with his first career start. He had another solid game scoring inside and on the boards, finishing with 11 points and 8 rebounds. He made a good hustle play late in the first half, getting into the lane for an offensive rebound on a missed free throw by teammate Riley Kugel, and made both free throws to extend Florida's early lead to 29-20.

Fudge went a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line.

"He's been a little more productive, over the last week or two," Golden said. "Gives us a good lift."

Florida is seeking a second frontline pressure to take some pressure of Castleton, who has carried the scoring load up front early this season.

"Coach told me to bring the energy so that's what I'm going to continue to do every day, bring the energy and bring the effort to the court," Fudge said.