Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators blow out Merrimack in second half after rough, slow start

By OnlyGators.com Staff
December 5, 2023
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators blow out Merrimack in second half after rough, slow start

Image Credit: UAA

The Florida Gators put forth their second straight horrendous half of basketball to open Tuesday night’s affair against the Merrimack Warriors at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida. However, after getting right in the halftime locker room, the Gators blew out the visitors in the second half for a decisive 77-57 victory.

The victory ended a two-game losing streak for Florida, which improved to 5-3 on the season, 3-0 agains non-power conference teams. Let’s take a look at what went right (and wrong) for the Gators.

It was over when … junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. slammed home a dunk to complete a 26-2 run and push Florida ahead by 21 points with less than 9 minutes remaining. Clayton and redshirt senior point guard Zyon Pullin each scored 10 points during the stretch, suddenly pushing a game out of reach that had been way too close for the first 24 minutes of regulation. UF led by as many as 23 points with 86 seconds left, scoring 47 points in the second half.

First half focus: Florida opened a paltry 3 of 17 from the field and fell behind by 10 points midway through the opening period. The Gators battled back with an extended 17-6 scoring stretch to take the lead but ultimately trailed 31-30 at the break. UF was simply terrible on both ends, going 10 of 28 from the floor with nine turnovers and allowing Merrimack to basically match it on the boards.

Exceptional efforts: Clayton was exceptional Tuesday night — particularly in the second half — scoring a game-high 24 points on 4 of 7 shooting from beyond the arc. Freshman forward/center Alex Condon did almost all of his scoring in the first half, but he was a beast on the boards finishing with a double-double of 12 points and 15 rebounds. Pullin did not score other than that 10-point stretch, finishing with 4 boards and 3 assists. (He and Clayton combined for 9 of UF’s 13 turnovers.)

Odds & ends: Florida improved to 3-0 all-time against NEC teams with this being the first such meeting since 1998 … this was just the Gators’ fourth win under head coach Todd Golden when trailing at the half (4-14) and just the fifth when shooting worse than 45% from the field (5-17) … after consecutive solid games, sophomore guard Riley Kugel disappeared again with 5 points on 2 of 5 shooting in just 21 minutes … the Gators finished with a 57-33 rebound edge (37-15 in the second half) … Florida won scoring battles on second chances (25-8), off turnovers (18-8), off the fast break (14-7) and in the paint (40-30)

What about last week?! Florida fell 82-71 at Wake Forest in the 2023 SEC/ACC Challenge last week. (We were busy. Sorry.) Kugel was on his game with 24 points on 4 of 6 shooting from downtown, but Clayton and Pullin combined to go 6 of 24 (1 of 9 from distance). The Gators led by four at the break but got outscored by 15 points in the second half for a disastrous loss — even on the road — to a beatable power conference program.

What it means: Well, it wasn’t a loss. Florida’s level of play in the second half is what it should have offered for the entire 40-minute game Tuesday night. The Gators looked like a team without rhythm or intensity in the first half, which coming out of the horrendous second half against the Demon Deacons, could be combined for their worst stretch of the season to this point. Credit to Golden for getting everything turned around at the break, but Florida will not be able to come out playing this lackadaisically the rest of this season with much more talented opponents ahead.

What’s next? Tuesday night marked the Gators’ lone home game in a 35-day span. Florida has a neutral-site contest ahead Saturday when it plays the Richmond Spiders in the 2023 Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in Sunrise, FL. The game will tip at 4 p.m. ET and air on SEC Network.

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