Florida vs. Pittsburgh score, takeaways: Gators dominate, advance as Walter Clayton Jr. breaks out

By OnlyGators.com Staff
November 22, 2023
Florida vs. Pittsburgh score, takeaways: Gators dominate, advance as Walter Clayton Jr. breaks out

Image Credit: UAA

A near-career performance from junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. powered the Florida Gators to a dominant 86-71 victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers to begin the 2023 NIT Season Tip-Off at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The victory marked Florida’s third straight impressive win and pushes it into a big-time showdown on Friday after the team gets to enjoy Thanksgiving in the Big Apple.

Let’s take a look at what went down Wednesday night in the city that never sleeps.

It was over when … freshman forward Thomas Haugh slammed home a fastbreak dunk to end a late effort from Pitt and push Florida ahead 12 points with 1:57 to play. With Clayton on the bench, the Gators took a 13-point lead by turning his personal 5-0 stretch into a 14-3 run. They increased that advantage to a game-high 15 points on Clayton’s sixth 3-pointer of the game with less than 8 minutes to play and largely cruised the rest of the way, retaining that 15-point edge before the final buzzer.

First half focus: Florida trailed nearly the entire opening period. Pitt scored the first seven points of the game and led by nine with 12:14 remaining as UF was ice cold from the field. However, five straight points from junior G Will Richard put the Gators down one at the midway point, and Clayton scored five points as part of a half-ending 8-0 run to push Florida ahead by five at the break.

Exceptional efforts: Clayton was the straw that stirred the drink or the Gators, posting a game-high 28 points (two off his career-high) on 6 of 8 shooting from beyond the arc. He also grabbed 5 rebounds and dished 2 assists while playing a team-high 31 minutes. Matching him with the same court time was redshirt senior forward Tyrese Samuel, who registered a double-double with 20 points on 9 of 11 shooting and 10 boards with 3 dimes. The lone flaw between UF’s leaders was a 2 of 6 mark from the free-throw line by Samuel, which is a symptom of a larger program issue. The duo combined for 55.8% of Florida’s points on Friday night.

Odds & ends: Florida evened the all-time series with Pitt 4-4, though UF has won three straight meetings since 1992 … the Gators improved to 2-1 against the ACC this season (one more game ahead against Wake Forest) and 7-3 in their last 10 games against the rival conference … UF is now 2-1 all-time at Barclays Center … Florida absolutely dominated fastbreak scoring (24-2) and nearly doubled Pitt posting points in the paint (44-26) … the Gators also bested the Panthers 28-11 off the bench and 19-7 off turnovers … Florida led for the final 17:16 of the game after not holding a lead for the first 19:21 of the contest …

sophomore G Riley Kugel saw his struggles continue with 5 points on 2 of 9 shooting, though he did dish 6 assists; he is 7 of 31 (.226) scoring 6.3 points per game over the last four contests … freshman F/C Alex Condon continued his impressive rookie campaign with 11 points and 6 boards … redshirt senior point guard Zyon Pullin only hit 1 of 5 shots but drove to the hoop making 8 of 10 free throws with a game-high 8 assists

What it means: Florida continues to roll despite Kugel’s struggles. It’s possible he is having issues finding his role in the offense with Clayton dominating and Pullin running point, but he may just be in a slump. However, the Gators finding immense success despite Kugel playing below his capability proves just how impressive this team looks early in the season. Florida has athletic size it has not possessed in quite some type, and it can score both inside-out and outside-in given the range of its players. It’s clear head coach Todd Golden has compiled quite a roster after struggling in Year 1 with his transfer portal acquisitions doing a lot of heavy lifting for the Gators at this early juncture. After their 15-point victory, they now sit No. 25 in the KenPom rankings.

What’s next? Florida will continue competing in the NIT Season Tip-Off where it will face No. 13 Baylor on Friday in the event’s championship game. The Bears defeated the Beavers 88-72 on Wednesday and present a huge opportunity for the Gators as their first ranked opponent of the season. Florida has impressed enough that it would surely enter the AP Top 25 on Monday if it takes down Baylor. The game will tip off at 5:30 p.m. ET and air on ESPN2.

What about the women? Earlier Wednesday, Florida beat Columbia 83-81 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by senior G Aliyah Matharu. She finished with a team-high 26 points, 3 assists and 4 steals despite hitting just 8 of 19 field goals and committing 7 turnovers. Seniors center Ra Shaya Kyle and G Leilani Correa were also on point combining for 32 points, 14 boards and seven dimes. The Gators swept the Baha Mar Hoops Pink Flamingo Championship in the Bahamas, beating Purdue 52-49 on Monday. They are 5-1 to start the season with their lone loss coming to then-No. 12 Florida State by 4 points.

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