Gators Swamp Virginia, Head To New York

When the game is only two-twenty minute halves, streaks can go a long way. Either way. Florida went on a 21-0 run against Virginia in their second round NCAA game in Orlando while the Cavaliers were scoreless for eight minutes. That combination put the Gators up by 19 on their way to a 65-39 win. Florida now heads to New York and Madison Square Garden for the Sweet 16 and a match up against Wisconsin next Friday.

“We’ve found that edge,” Guard Chris Chiozza said in the winning locker room. “We’re back to that team that went on that winning streak in the middle of the season. It doesn’t matter who scores, we’re giving them the ball.”

Using their trademark defense and scoring in transition, the Gators kept the pressure on Virginia from the opening tip. Florida Head Coach Mike White predicted it would be “smash-mouth, half-court” basketball and it was clear the Gators were prepared for that kind of game.

“I think we just had to get them uncomfortable and play our tempo,” Devin Robinson said at the post-game press conference. “We just tried to stay aggressive on defense and get in transition as best we can and that turned to great offense.”

On the other hand, Virginia couldn’t keep up with Florida’s speed as evidenced by Justin Leon and Robinson scoring in double figures midway through the second half. Both finished with 14 points and a double-double.

“So proud of Justin Leon,” Gators White said after the victory. “He got a double-double, was 3-6 from 3’s but this was his best game defensively. Best game as a Gator.”

In their first round game against East Tennessee State, Florida led the Bucs by one at halftime and looked like the team that had lost 3 of 4 to end the season. Since then, they’ve looked like the team that went on a nine game winning streak through February with eight different leading scorers.

“All year we’ve had multiple people lead us in scoring,” Canyon Berry said in front of his locker. “Just that depth adds something to our team, being able to come in one night, Kevaughn gets 25 and the next night it’s Devin or the next night me. Hopefully we all can have a good night next round. We can beat anyone in the country when that happens.”

Against Virginia, the Gators had significant minutes from nine different players, all who scored. As an example of Florida’s balanced attack, their leading scorer, Kevaughn Allen, who averaged nearly 14 points per game in the regular season, had 4 against the Cavs. He and Canyon Barry, Florida’s two leading scorers, combined for 11 points. Still, the Gators have outscored their opponents 112-72 in their last 60 minutes of play.

“We got a couple bounces our way but that’s about as good as we’ve played defensively this year,” White said in the understatement of the night.

By the way, in Orlando on Saturday night, FSU and Virginia were a combined 5 of 36 from beyond the arc and lost by a combined total of 51 points.

FSU Can’t Shoot, Loses To Xavier

Smooth and organized never described the 2016-17 Florida State basketball team. Even by Head Coach Leonard Thompson’s own assessment, the ‘Noles liked to “pressure the ball and be aggressive.” That made any deficit look erasable. Except when the opponent shoots 66% in the first half and pretty much keeps it up for the entire game.

That’s what happened to FSU in Orlando in their NCAA second round matchup against Xavier. The 11th seeded Musketeers hit two-thirds of their shots in the first half, and nearly 70% of their three-point attempts trough the midway point of the second half enroute to a 91-66 win and a trip to San Jose for the third round of March Madness.

“We just didn’t hit shots,” FSU’s Terrance Mann said in the post-game press conference. “It’s tough when they hit all their 3’s and we struggled.”

Relying on their speed and length, Florida State just couldn’t match Xavier shot for shot, hovering around the 40% mark from the floor and barely using shots from beyond the arc as a weapon, trailing by 10 at the half, 44-34.

After intermission it was more of the same, with Xavier keeping up the assault from the three-point line and driving to the basket when given the opportunity. The 11-th seeded Musketeers had five players score from beyond the arc, led by Kaiser Gates who was 4 of 5 from the 3-point line.

“Xavier did a really good job of clogging the lane,” FSU Head Coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We got great looks from deep but we just couldn’t buy anything.” FSU finished the game 4 of 21 from beyond the arc.

Down by 20 points with just over 7 minutes to play, the ‘Noles hit back to back three’s but Xavier answered with baskets and free throws of their own to push the lead to 75-53. Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes lead FSU scoring with 20 and 16 points respectively but never got the hot hand against a smothering Xavier defense.