Gators Make Big NCAA Tournament Push, Down #9 West Virginia, 88-71

On a brisk Saturday afternoon in Gainesville, the Florida men’s basketball team (14-7) picked up its biggest win of the season, and its first over a Top-25 team, dominating the West Virginia Mountaineers (17-4) in an 88-71 victory.

Dorian Finney-Smith led the charge for the Gators, scoring 24 points on seven of 12 shooting from the floor, going five of seven from downtown.  Finney-Smith’s 24 points pushed him over the career 1,000 point mark, making him only the 51st player in Florida basketball history to score over 1,000 points in a career. Florida head coach Mike White talked about Finney-Smith’s efficient and effective play style, knowing that he was in foul trouble. Freshman KeVaughn Allen got his first taste of a gritty, mid-season out-of-conference match up, finishing with 19 points and four assists. Coach White recapped the game in his post-game press conference.

Florida shot 60 percent from downtown against the best three-point defense in the country, sinking 12 of 20 shots from beyond the arc. As a whole, the Gators shot 53 percent from the floor, holding the Mountaineers to 43 percent as a team, and 35 percent from three-point range. While West Virginia finished with a 32-30 rebounding advantage, Florida was able to hold the second best offensive rebounding team in the nation to a small 13-9 advantage on the offensive boards.

Four different Mountaineers finished in double digit scoring, led by Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip who scored 15 points apiece. West Virginia forward Devin Williams was the only player to finish with a double-double in this one, posting 12 points and 13 rebounds. Williams’ minutes were more limited than they had been throughout the season, playing only 28 due to foul trouble. West Virginia was also without forward Jonathan Holton, who was suspended indefinitely earlier this week after violating team conduct. Holton ranks second in the NCAA in offensive rebounding.

The Gators opened up the game three of four from downtown, electrifying the Rowdy Reptiles. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins would call a timeout after KeVaughn Allen sunk Florida’s third three-pointer in the first three minutes to give the Gators an 11-2 lead.

A 17-7, five minute run would put Florida up 31-15, its largest lead of the first half, with 8:25 left until halftime. During that span, the Gators would hit seven of nine shots, including a baseline-driving slam from forward Finney-Smith.

A two-minute, 12-0 run by the Mountaineers would put West Virginia right back in the game, reducing Florida’s lead to only four with 6:26 left in the first half. By slowing down the pace, WVU was able to set up their half court offense more efficiently than at any other point in the first 20 minutes. The Gators would finally end the Mountaineers’ run after KeVaughn Allen sunk two free throws to put Florida back up by six. The foul that sent Allen to the line was West Virginia’s 10th of the first half, putting the Gators in the double bonus from the 5:08 mark on.

With 3:52 left in the half, and the final TV timeout of the first half, Florida football head coach Jim McElwain came out to pump up the crowd, and that he did. After Coach Mac’s appearance, the Gators went on a 9-3 run to close the half, taking a 45-30 lead into halftime.

West Virginia out rebounded Florida in the first half, 18-17, but the second best offensive rebounding team in the nation was only able to grab two more offensive boards than the Gators in the first 20 minutes. The Mountaineers’ main demise in the first half was their 11 turnovers, turning into 11 points for the Gators.

Jan 30, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers forward Devin Williams (41) shoots as Florida Gators center John Egbunu (15) defends during the second half of a basketball game at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Florida won 88-71. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Jevon Carter, the Mountaineers’ best perimeter defender, led WVU in first half scoring with nine points on three of eight shooting. West Virginia’s most dominant interior defender, Devin Williams, grabbed more boards than any other player in the first half, finishing with seven rebounds.

Dorian Finney-Smith opened up the second half the same way he did the first, by sinking a three-pointer in the face of his defender to rile up the O’Connell Center all over again. Unfortunately for Florida, Schuyler Rimmer’s foul with 15:14 left in the contest would give the Gators’ their seventh team foul, putting the Mountaineers in the bonus for the rest of the game. Shortly after, at the 11:49 mark of the second half, Chris Chiozza would pick up Florida’s 10th team foul of the half, giving the Mountaineers double bonus opportunities the rest of the way.

But it would not matter.  The Gators took their largest lead of the day going up by 20 with 10 minutes left in the game after a pair of Kasey Hill free throws. Hill was an important part of the Gators’ back court, breaking the press successfully for most of the afternoon. Hill finished with four points, three rebounds and three assists, while playing most of the second half with a broken nose per head coach Mike White.

In one of the most tightly called games the Gators had played yet, West Virginia picked up its 10th team foul with 7:28 left in the contest. From that point on, both teams found themselves in the double bonus for the rest of the game.

The Gators would close out the contest making 13 of their 14 second half free throws and sinking 60% of their three-pointers in the final frame.

Mike White’s Gators passed the ball superbly throughout the contest, picking up 16 assists to the Mountaineers’ 10, and were also able to finally make their free throws, sinking 77 percent of their looks from the foul line. Coach Mike White discussed the team’s free throw improvements coming into Saturday’s game.

Brandone Francis-Ramirez was finally able to find his groove, finishing with nine points on 3 of 3 shooting from beyond the arc. Francis-Ramirez had been offered a scholarship from West Virginia in high school, but declined it to join the Gators. Coach White summarized how impressed he’s been with Francis-Ramirez’s effort as of late.

Florida will get an extra day of rest this week, before taking on the Arkansas Razorbacks (10-10) on Wednesday night. Arkansas is coming off of a 74-71 victory over the fifth ranked Texas A&M Aggies. The Gators are 15-11 all-time against the Razorbacks, and won their most recent match up, 57-56, at the O’Connell Center last season.

About Jake Winderman

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