Down by three with 13 seconds left in the game, Xavier forward Paul Scruggs launched a desperate three-point shot into the air.
The Xavier bench stood up to watch. The ball bounced once, twice, and fell away from the rim on the third time and landed into the hands of the Florida Gators. The Musketeers bench fell back to their seats in defeat.
UF staved off its second late-game comeback attempt of the Charleston Classic to defeat the Xavier Musketeers 70-65 and grab its fifth win of the season. The Gators are the first SEC team to ever win the Charleston Classic.
Florida played the best basketball it has all season in the first half of the contest.
The Gators went 64 percent from the field, the best they’ve shot in the first 20 minutes all season. UF spread the ball around, as the leading scorer for the half was a three-way tie at nine points between graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. and sophomores Keyontae Johnson and Andrew Nembhard.
Blackshear Jr. — who just two games ago was ejected after playing only five minutes — netted four rebounds and two assists while going 4 for 7 from the field.
Florida also capitalized on the defensive side of the ball. Xavier turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, and the Gators scored 13 points off those turnovers. UF also had 11 defensive rebounds, and the combination of improved shooting and solid defense allowed it to enter the intermission with a 39-29 lead.
Despite keeping up the pace in the second half, UF’s play saw a decline.
Whereas three Florida players hit the nine-point mark in the first half, the Gators’ leading scorer in the second half, freshman Ques Glover, could only hit seven. Both UF’s second-half field goal percentage (43.5) and three-point percentage (36.4) dropped from the first half.
It was within the last five minutes where the Gators’ lead began to waver. Xavier went on a 9-1 run that ended when guard Quentin Goodin hit a trey with 1:09 remaining that put the Musketeers within three in the final stretch.
After Scruggs’ miss, however, two Blackshear Jr. free throws put the game out of reach with eight seconds remaining.
Blackshear Jr. was the team’s most notable performer, recording a double-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and two assists. The Gators’ leading scorers were Nembhard and Johnson, who both grabbed 15 points in the contest.
UF will return to the O’Connell Center on Friday to face the Marshall Thundering Herd at 9 p.m.
Follow River Wells on Twitter @riverhwells. Contact him at [email protected]