Todd Golden began his tenure with an emphatic victory.
The first-year head coach stepped into the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Monday night with a chance to set a positive tone for the season. With a 36-point rout of Stony Brook, Golden and company did just that.
“We dominated the paint, did a really good job on the glass and we did a great job taking care of the ball,” Golden said. “Those are the areas that don’t require a lot of talent. It’s more about being physical and [having] the will and desire to go get it.”
The Gators defeated the Seawolves 81-45 in the long awaited introduction to Florida basketball post Mike White. UF ran its offense with efficiency and an emphasis on the 3-point shot. The Gators forced 18 Stony Brook turnovers, a representation of their tenacity on both ends of the floor.
Florida got everything it wanted to start the game.
Sophomore guard Kowacie Reeves began the night with a splash from the corner. Following his make, there was no shortage of 3-point attempts from the Gators; Florida jacked up 10 shots from behind the arc by the game’s second timeout at the 9:02 mark.
An especially rowdy group of reptiles had plenty to cheer about on opening night of the “Golden Era,” including a ferocious breakaway dunk from Colin Castleton, who began his final season at UF Monday.
One of Florida’s four offseason transfers, sophomore Alex Fudge, wasted no time making an impact in his first action. The Louisiana State transfer poured in 11 points — shooting better than 60% from the field — to lead Florida in scoring through one half.
“We came out with aggression,” Fudge said.
Golden’s debut raced toward halftime as the Gators doubled up on the Seawolves, 28-14. Both squads began to settle in, and Castleton established the paint as his own. The 6-foot-11-inch forward tallied four blocks and a team-tying five rebounds to go along with his nine points at halftime.
All of Florida’s transfers — Fudge, Will Richard, Kyle Lofton and Trey Bonham — saw the floor in their first half as Gators.
In the opening 20 minutes, UF swarmed defensively on almost every possession, controlled the tempo and got seven players in on the scoring. The Seawolves shot just 28% from the field in the first half and trailed Florida 38-22. The Gators also dominated the glass, out rebounding Stony Brook 25-15.
Both teams looked sluggish at the start of the second half. Energy was lacking until Richard began making plays. First, he drew an off-ball foul. Then, he knocked down his first 3-pointer as a Gator. On the ensuing possession, Richard added two more points from the free-throw line.
Out of a timeout, Lofton hit his first 3-pointer as a Gator. Florida’s lead grew to 26 with just over 15 minutes left in the game. Through the first eight minutes of the second half, Stony Brook scored just five points — three of which came from the charity stripe — while missing eight field goal attempts.
Florida’s lead eclipsed 30 points on another 3-pointer from Fudge.
“Usually guys take their biggest jump from their freshman to sophomore year,” Golden said. “I think you saw that with guys like Will, Kowacie and Fudge tonight.”
The clock dwindled under 10 minutes and the Gators kept a comfortable cushion on the scoreboard. Florida went nearly four-minutes without a field goal until Reeves hit his second 3-pointer to end the spell. Stony Brook responded with a triple of its own, but the basket was quickly overshadowed.
Castleton and graduate guard Myreon Jones ran out on the fastbreak and connected for a high-flying alley-oop dunk. It would be Castleton’s second-to-last bucket of the night, before the Gators’ reserves closed out the game.
Fan favorite Alex Klatsky checked in down the stretch, much to the liking of an adoring student section. It’s no exaggeration to say the O’Dome got its loudest after he drilled a 3-pointer from the corner.
“That was the highlight of my night,” Richard said.
The Gators closed the game by getting their depth some valuable playing time. All 15 members of the Florida roster got on the floor in the season opener.
“For me, everybody’s new,” Golden said. “Obviously there’s guys that returned that were at Florida last year, but this is a brand new program.”
UF takes Billy Donovan Court again Friday at 7 p.m. against Kennesaw State. The game will stream on SEC Network+.
Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper.