Silence spread throughout the O’Connell Center.
Up 14-10 with just under nine minutes to play in the first half, the Gators needed a spark.
That much-needed energy came from a well-timed alley-oop between sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard and freshman forward Omar Payne.
On the next possession, graduate transfer forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. added a dunk of his own.
Both slams helped ignite a 14-0 UF run that rejuvenated the offense.
That momentum helped carry the sixth-ranked Florida men’s basketball team into the second half and beyond, winning its season opener 74-59 over the North Florida Ospreys on Tuesday night.
Whether it was first-game jitters or the unkind rims, both teams struggled to put the ball in the basket early on. Florida (1-0) started just 3 of 16 from the field before making 10 of its last 19 in the first half, while the Ospreys (0-1) shot just 28 percent (8 of 29).
In a half where UF saw nine different players score, the Gators were led by freshman guard Tre Mann (seven points, three rebounds), sophomore guard Noah Locke (seven points, one rebound) and Blackshear Jr. (11 points, four rebounds).
Despite the slow start, UF held a comfortable 39-22 lead at halftime.
Florida continued to shoot from a high level early on in the second half, going on a quick 6-0 run, watching its lead balloon to 23 points.
Things cooled down after that, though.
The Ospreys shrank the lead to as few as 13 points behind a three-point attack from a group of UNF guards.
Senior guards J.T. Escobar, Ivan Gandia-Rosa and Garrett Sams all drained a pair of threes as North Florida made seven treys in the second half.
“We lost the intensity level about four minutes into the second half,” coach Mike White said. “We’ve been outscored by Lynn and North Florida in the second half, and we might not be able to play 10, 11 or even nine guys, if there’s going to be a drop off.”
For Florida, a team that made 27 of 53 from beyond the arc combined in the closed scrimmage against USF and the exhibition last week against Lynn, shot just 20 percent (3 of 15) on Tuesday.
While the long ball wasn’t falling for UF, the points in the paint were, and it was enough to keep some distance between the Gators and the Ospreys.
Blackshear Jr. led all scorers for UF with 20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists as he continues to show why Florida brought him to Gainesville.
“I think I did pretty well, but there’s definitely some things I need to work on and get better at,” Blackshear Jr. said. “I had some miscues that I’ll have to clean up before Sunday.”
The other Gators who scored in double figures were Mann and sophomore guard Noah Locke with 11 and 14, respectively.
Follow Evan Lepak on Twitter @evanmplepak. Contact him at [email protected]