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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Gators men’s basketball makes statement in win against Florida State

Florida moved to 3-1 on the season amidst Zyon Pullin’s return

Junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. drives with the basketball in the Gators’ 89-68 win against the Florida State Seminoles on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.
Junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. drives with the basketball in the Gators’ 89-68 win against the Florida State Seminoles on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.

The Gators men’s basketball team came out firing on all cylinders and rolled the Seminoles Nov. 17 — it also answered UF head coach Todd Golden’s challenge to the team.

“What are you going to be about?” Golden said after the win. “Are you going to take care of your home court, or, you know, are you going to allow another outcome to happen?” 

Florida (3-1) took down Florida State (2-1) Nov. 17 and Florida A&M (0-4) Nov. 14, both by a score of 89-68. Golden described the 21-point victory against in-state rivals FSU as a “statement victory.”

“That was a statement game tonight for us,” Golden said. “I’m really proud of our guys for the way they played.”

Florida lit it up from the floor to open the game and jumped out to a 36-9 lead. Four Gators players scored in double figures, and the team shot 51.7% from the field.

The FSU game also marked the debut of graduate student guard Zyon Pullin. The UC Riverside transfer missed UF’s first three games, serving a suspension. 

Pullin came off the bench to start the game but played a significant role in 28 minutes. He scored 15 points on 4-9 shooting. 

The graduate student guard missed his first two shots but eventually found his footing midway through the first half. He caught the ball at the top of the arc, pump faked, took a dribble to the left to get an open shot and drilled a triple for his first points as a UF player.

Pullin also grabbed five rebounds and dished four assists in the win. 

The Gators' backcourt trio of guards, sophomore Riley Kugel, junior Walter Clayton Jr. and Pullin, all scored in double figures and combined for 44 points. 

“I think this group can do a lot of winning,” Pullin said. “If we can lock in on the small things that will make us a good team.”

The pair — Pullin and Clayton — also combined for nine assists. Clayton and Pullin acknowledged there were still things to work on, but the duo clicked early.

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“It was great,” Clayton said. “Playing out there with [Pullin]. I just felt like it was great chemistry.”

The Gators have also looked to their freshmen for valuable minutes. Freshman forward Alex Condon scored 17 points against Florida A&M and nine points against FSU. 

“[Condon’s] a guy that’s exceeded our expectations in terms of being ready and in terms of being able to help,” Golden said. 

The Gators’ frontcourt dealt with foul trouble against the Noles, which allowed freshman forward Thomas Haugh to play a career-high 26 minutes. He made the most of the opportunity, grabbing 10 boards, scoring five points and blocking two shots in the win. 

“[Haugh] is kind of like your super solid rock, right, just all the defensive plays,” Golden said.”

Golden emphasized how both players' inexperience and recruiting rankings don’t tell the full story of what they bring to the team.

“They’re both wise beyond their years,” Golden said. “They weren’t guys that were highly decorated recruits, but I think a lot of people would want to have them on their team.”

The contributions from UF’s freshmen and transfers have turned the team into a high-powered offensive team. 

Florida ranks in the top 25 in offensive efficiency at No. 24, according to KenPom as of Nov. 19. The Gators have scored more than 85 points in three of their four games this season. 

As of Nov. 19, UF won’t face another team currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 until Florida’s SEC opener against the Kentucky Wildcats Jan. 6. If the Gators can carry the momentum from their statement victory against the Seminoles, then the team can stack non-conference wins. 

Florida will head to Brooklyn, New York, for its next game against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the NIT Season Tip-Off Wednesday. The game will tip off at 9:30 p.m. and be broadcast on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.

Contact Jackson Reyes at Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.

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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.

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