The Gators followed up on the momentum of a landslide victory over Tennessee with a 92-84 road win against Georgia after the Bulldogs had no answer for them in the paint.
The game, which tipped off just after 2 p.m. Saturday, got off to a breathless opening. The Bulldogs controlled the pace in transition, leading 14-9 after the opening four minutes after going six-of-seven from the field and making both shots from three.
The Gators weren’t far behind Georgia’s pace, however, and it didn’t take Florida long to heat up. Junior sharpshooter Noah Locke was firing early and often from three, pulling the trigger with more confidence than he’s had all season on his way to a trio of first-half threes and a game-leading 13 points at the half. Both teams started a combined 22-38 from the floor on an Athens afternoon in which defense was scarce and both teams ended the day shooting north of 50% from the court.
Both teams had their own struggles on the defensive end. While Georgia outmatched the Gators in transition and seemed to outrace Florida across the floor more than a few times, the Bulldogs were porous defending the interior. Florida’s guards had no issue driving to the basket and the Bulldog defense seemed to lose Colin Castleton and Omar Payne down low several times leading to easy baskets. Florida dominated the points in the paint and rebounds all day, displayed at the end of the first half when Omar Payne found a hole in the Georgia defense and put a missed shot back up for two more points just before the backboard turned red to take a three-point lead into the locker room.
The Gators really came alive to start the second half, going on a 20-7 run out of the locker room to open a 16-point lead, the largest of the game. Georgia went on a short run of its own to pull back within nine with 11 minutes to go, but the game was not as close as the final score indicated. Georgia didn’t get any closer than nine points away until the final seconds as Florida kept their rivals at arms length for the remainder of the contest by outshooting the Bulldogs on all three areas of the court.
Sophomore Tre Mann lead the way offensively, scoring 17 of his career-high 24 points in the second half including five free-throws to salt away the final minute. All three of Florida’s starting guards finished with double-digits points, with Locke finishing with 16 and junior transfer Tyree Appleby contributing 14. The trio also combined for eight of the Gators’ ten steals, with Appleby providing a game-leading four.
Payne impressed in a second consecutive start, just missing a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds to go with a pair of blocks, and fellow big man Colin Castleton contributed 14 points off the bench after missing the Tennessee win to rest an ankle injury. Florida finished with 41 rebounds as a team, 14 more than Georgia, and had all five blocks Saturday in a game that was clearly lopsided in the frontcourt.
The Gators, now 8-4 and 5-3 in the SEC, will take the court again Wednesday night to try and extend the winning streak to three against Vanderbilt, against whom Castleton had his breakout game almost a month ago.