For the first time since 1999, the Gators will play in their third-consecutive true road game tonight in Washington D.C.
No. 2 seed Florida visits the nation’s capital for its National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal game against No. 4 seed George Washington at 7.
With construction underway at the O’Connell Center, Florida is unable to host any NIT games, but playing games away from home has been a good test for the Gators — one they have fully accepted.
“It’s actually testing our ability to play on the road,” forward Kevarrius Hayes said. “Knowing how hard it is to play a road game, and for us to go and still make it happen will boost our confidence even more.”
In Florida’s first two NIT games, the Gators lit up North Florida with a season-high 16 three-pointers in Jacksonville and then earned the program’s first ever win in Columbus against Ohio State.
Florida held a 4-8 record during the regular season in true road games.
Coach Mike White said his team has handled playing on the road in the postseason very well, and that the Gators (21-14) are playing with increased confidence on the offensive end of the court away from home.
“We’re just in more of a flow, more of a rhythm,” White said. “Guys are in a pretty good attack mode. Kasey’s playing downhill, Dorian’s as confident as he’s been all year ... Devin’s shooting it a little bit better than he was early in the season. KeVaughn’s not so much a freshman as he was earlier in the year."
In its first two NIT games, Florida shot a combined 48.5 percent from the field (64-for-132) and 43.1 percent from beyond the arc (22-for-51). White, on Tuesday, said the reason for Florida's recent success is simple: UF is shooting the ball better.
The team is using its new-found momentum as motivation in the NIT, but it's also looking to gain experience for the future, especially for some of the younger players.
“We would have loved to get this cohesiveness earlier in the season, but it’s good to know how capable we are when we play well,” Hayes said. “We can use this momentum to kind of build up what our next season’s gonna be like. It’s good to see kinda where we’re headed right now.”
But the focus today is on George Washington (25-10), a team Florida hasn’t faced in D.C. in over 75 years.
White and Hayes are both looking forward to sight-seeing in the nation’s capital before the game, but White made it clear that “we don’t want to get our brains beat in too bad” and lose focus of the objective — beating the Colonials.
A renewed sense of energy has carried Florida since its 72-66 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament.
A win tonight in D.C. can earn Florida a spot in the NIT’s final four in Madison Square Garden.
“I think for the most part there’s a sense of pride right now in our locker room,” White said, “that we responded the right way. We’re in the NIT, but we’ve capitalized on a couple opportunities...We hope that continues.”
Contact Alex Maminakis at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @alexmaminakis.