A double-digit deficit in the second half with the season on the line did not phase the Gators on Sunday afternoon.
Thanks to a furious rally spearheaded by senior Jaterra Bonds and redshirt sophomore Cassie Peoples in the late in the second half, Florida gets to dance another day after beating Dayton 83-69.
“It was just a microcosm of the way this team’s been all year long,” coach Amanda Butler said. “There’s no give up, there’s no quit. All it is, is a won’t die, resilient spirit — that we’re just not going to go away no matter what the odds are or what the situation is.”
After a sloppy first half, the Gators found the deck stacked against them headed into halftime.
Florida was down by three points and had 13 turnovers with only five assists.
The start of the second half wasn’t any better, as Dayton stormed out of the gates to take a 12-point lead with just under 15 minutes left in the game.
Then, the Gators’ offense woke up and defense locked down.
“Our defense changed,” assistant coach David Lowery said.
“Cassie Peoples became a poised point guard and was getting in the seams, keeping her head up and was just stripping the ball. She got in the zone and really played smart with the ball and made sure we hit the right people.”
After a five-point first half, Peoples exploded in the second half for an additional 16 points and five assists to lead the Gators in both points and assists for the game with 21 and six, respectively.
“We were talking about our turnovers and our decisions and our energy level,” Butler said. “Going into the second half, it was a battle we were fighting. Cassie really woke up and got us going.”
“There was no turning back from there.”
Perhaps Peoples’ most impressive stat was her 8-for-8 clip from the charity stripe.
Six of them occurred within the final minute of the game to cement the Gators’ victory over the Flyers.
Bonds was instrumental in setting her team up for the second half run, driving the lane on nearly every possession she had.
“We made an adjustment,” Lowery said. “We put (Bonds) at the four a little bit, because we thought the high post area was very open, and we needed to try to expose that.”
“Early in the second half I thought we were settling — especially with Ronni — for the pull up, what they wanted us to shoot, but we thought we needed to be a little bit more aggressive off the bounce and just be able to get to the cup when we swung it on the reversal.”
After going scoreless in the first half, redshirt sophomore Carlie Needles emerged as a factor for the Gators, hitting three three-pointers and scoring 11 points in the second half.
“Carlie Needles hit big shots, man,” Lowery said. “Enough can’t be said about how well she shot the ball.”
“She was confident. She knew it was going in anytime it left her hand. I thought her teammates did a great job of finding her.”
Florida closed out Sunday’s contest shooting 18 of 23 from the free-throw line, a testament to the aggressive style of offense they’ve played this season.
“When we are aggressive and we get to the free-throw line, nine times out of ten, we come out on top,” Lowery said. “
When you’re getting to the free-throw line and you’re shooting 23 free throws, that’s showing that you’re doing things the right way.”
Florida now gets a day to prepare before squaring off against hometown Penn State on Tuesday in State College, Penn.
Television and radio broadcasts contributed to this report.
Follow Gordon Streisand on Twitter @GordonStreisand
Cassie Peoples drives down the court during Florida’s 81-76 loss to Missouri on Feb. 20 in the O’Connell Center.