Florida coach Mike White was adamant that his team needed to make open shots after its loss to Ole Miss.
“I hate saying this, but I’m just going to be honest – we had some looks, man,” White said. “We had, and that’s not every game. Every game you struggle offensively, you can’t say ‘Well, we just got to make our open shots.’ We had some looks in Oxford that we’ve got to make a few of those.”
UF did just that in the second half against Texas A&M.
The Gators defeated the Aggies 78-61 Wednesday night in College Station, Texas, behind an offensive explosion from their starting backcourt in a rare road win.
The Aggies entered the SEC matchup as one of the premier defensive teams in the conference while being known to struggle at times offensively.
That was not the case on Wednesday.
Texas A&M (11-12, 5-6) has held teams under 65 points in all of its 11 wins so far this season while it only shoots 38.3 percent from the field and and SEC-worst 25.7 percent from three-point range.
Florida (15-9, 7-4) couldn’t find an answer on the defensive end in the first half. The Aggies shot 50 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from behind the arc.
White entered the game well aware of his team’s propensity to struggle defending the deep ball.
“We’ve got some deficiencies,” White said at media availability on Tuesday. “The way we’ve defended the three this year has been our biggest defensive deficiency, and as of late transition defense has taken a step back.”
Florida was able to stay on pace with the Aggies’ offense, however, in no small part thanks to guard Noah Locke.
Locke made four of his six three-point attempts in the first half and racked up 14 points in the process. The other half of UF’s starting backcourt, Andrew Nembhard, struggled to take care of the ball early on.
Nembhard, who played Wednesday after suffering from an ankle injury against Ole Miss on Saturday, turned the ball over three times before halftime — all of them being traveling calls.
Still, the sophomore contributed with eight points on 3-for-5 shooting from the field and had three assists at halftime.
Another Gator who struggled was forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. The graduate-transfer from Virginia Tech received a not-so-warm welcome from his former coach Buzz Williams.
Williams coached Blackshear Jr. all four years he attended Virginia Tech and respected the 6-foot-10 forward to the extent where he doubled him almost every time he touched the ball Wednesday night.
Blackshear Jr. ended the first half with just two points and no field goals, but he expected Williams’ hard-nosed style of defense.
“Just from being there at Virginia Tech for so long, I understand some of his tendencies, but he also understands mine,” Blackshear Jr. said. “He’s going to have a hard-playing group, just like we had up there.”
Florida went into halftime with a 37-34 lead despite its leading scorer struggling mightily.
In the second half, Florida blew the game open and widened the gap to as much as 23 points.
Nembhard put the traveling calls behind him when he came out of halftime and shot 6 for 6 in the second half for 16 points. He finished with 24 points and five assists to lead UF.
Locke finished with a season-high 21 points followed by forward Keyontae Johnson with 10.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore had an all-around performance with 10 rebounds and dropped 6 dimes. He is only the fifth player to have 10 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists under White.
Florida’s defensive deficiencies were also a thing of the past in the second half. The Aggies only shot 8 for 23 from the field and an abysmal 2 for 14 from deep after their hot start.
Texas A&M was led by forward Emanuel Miller with 15 points on 4-for-5 shooting in the losing effort.
The Gators are now 3-5 on the road and will host Vanderbilt (9-15, 1-10) on Saturday at 8 p.m.
Follow Joseph on Twitter @JSalvadorSports and contact him at [email protected].