Some observations following Florida’s 74-66 win over Ohio State in the NIT Tournament:
— Credit Florida freshman center Kevarrius Hayes for stepping up in John Egbunu’s absence. Hayes scored a career-high 14 points by staying within himself and not forcing his own offense. The 6-foot-9 Hayes went 5-of-5 from the floor, scoring two baskets on putbacks and two more baskets on dishes from point guard Kasey Hill. He also went 4-of-4 from the foul line, a marked improvement considering he came into the game shooting 41.5 percent from the charity stride.
— Florida won the game on effort, out-rebounding the Buckeyes 43-35, outscoring Ohio State 14-13 in second-chance points and getting to all the loose balls. Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith posted his eighth double-double of the season (16 points, 12 rebounds) and 13th of his career. Junior forward Justin Leon also had an effective game off the bench with 12 points and 7 rebounds and made a great hustle play in the first half, following his own missed 3-pointer for an offensive rebound and putback basket.
— First-year coach Mike White has shown an adept ability to draw up in-bounds plays underneath the basket. Two in-bounds plays led to wide open Florida layups. White notched UF’s 21st win of the season, tying Tommy Bartlett (21-4 in 1966-67) for the most wins by a first-year UF coach. Yes, the Gators (21-14) fell short of the goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament, but it’s easy for some in the Florida fanbase to forget that he inherited a 16-17 team that didn’t even make the postseason last year. So there have been some signs of progress in 2015-16.