For one brief second, the Stephen C. O’Connell Center fell silent.
It was the definition of poetry in motion, beauty in all facets.
Then, Florida forward Keyontae Johnson punctuated his journey from hardwood to basket with an angry slam dunk, and all hell broke loose as the Rowdy Reptiles went ballistic.
Johnson’s slam with 13:40 left in the contest served as a gut punch to La Salle, as the Explorers were hanging on to the Gators by a thread, but had no chance after.
UF (2-1) defeated La Salle 82-69 Friday after a gutsy second half in which the team’s defensive intensity was a clear boon to success. The scoreboard noted a much closer game than it actually was, as the Explorers went on an 11-1 run in the final two minutes.
La Salle (0-3) had to feel good going into the halftime break, as Florida held momentum for much of the frame, yet only led 40-32.
The Explorers cut the lead to seven at 42-35 with 17:41 left in the contest. But Florida responded with a 17-1 run over the next six minutes and 31 seconds to make it 59-36 before La Salle could even catch its breath.
The lead sat roughly around 20 points until the final two minutes or so when the Explorers went on their aforementioned final run.
UF had three guys score 12 points apiece - guard Jalen Hudson and forwards Keyontae Johnson and Kevarrius Hayes.
Coach Mike White took notice of Hayes’ effort on the night.
“It was a loud 12 (points) and six (rebounds),” White said. “We were so much better with him on the floor.”
For the second straight game, Florida collected 14 assists and rode great ball movement to an easy win. La Salle was led by guard Pookie Powell with 21 points and two assists.
Problems Florida needs to improve
The Gators were plagued Wednesday night by the same problem they’ve faced this season so far — shooting from the three-point line. The team finished the game 3-of-13 (23.1 percent) from deep.
UF got past the Explorers on talent alone, but when it starts facing quality teams in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, talent won’t be enough. Threes need to start falling for this team to be successful due to its lack of size.
Another problem that won’t show in the stat sheet is the Gators’ inability to close out on opposing shots.
Things Florida should continue doing
Shot selection was much improved from previous games this season. UF may have missed its share of threes, but many of them were open looks. As a whole, the team shot 30-for-54, good enough for a 55.6 shooting percentage.
Florida got going in the second half thanks to its defense. Several steals and fast breaks led to easy buckets right at the rim. Pressure on defense needs to continue or even intensify.
White’s halftime adjustment appeared to have his team stray away from the three-point line, to its benefit.
“Just the flow of the game,” White said. “As a guard, when you’re scoring on the interior at a pretty high rate, a lot of times you don’t feel the necessity to shoot an early jump-shot.”
This and That
Forward Isaiah Stokes went 3-of-5 from the field and closed with eight points, three rebounds and two assists.
Point guard Andrew Nembhard has a strained hip flexor, according to White. He played through it Wednesday night and closed with four points, three steals, one rebound and seven assists.
White said forward Keith Stone hurt his ankle in the second half.
Former UF sharpshooter Lee Humphrey, arguably the best three-point shooter in school history, was in attendance. He’ll make the trip to the Bahamas as a radio talent for the Battle 4 Atlantis in the team’s first game of the tournament next Wednesday against Oklahoma.
“Lee doesn’t know this, but I’m going to ask him to address our team,” White said with a smile. “Now that we bring up shooting a lot, we can get him to talk to the team about shooting.”
Chris O’Brien is a sports writer. Follow him on Twitter @THEChrisOB and contact him at email@example.com.
Forward Keyontae Johnson elevates for his thundering dunk against La Salle with 13:40 in the second half. He finished UF's 82-69 victory with 12 points and three rebounds.