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Florida 76, Mercer 54: Gators go to glass, foul line to slash Bears

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The Gators outmuscled Mercer up front, and also made sure to make their free throws.

NCAA Basketball: Florida Gulf Coast at Florida Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Florida’s first weekend away from home of the 2016-17 season culminated before an intimate gathering of hundreds in Jacksonville on Sunday night against Mercer.

It was probably fine that Florida played only before those few faithful fans: The Gators’ 76-54 win over the Bears was half glass-eating spectacle, half free-throw exhibition that typically merits looking away.

Except this wasn’t literal glass-eating — and Florida wasn’t throwing up bricks at the line for once.

Florida yanked down 20 offensive rebounds and made 26 of its 32 free throws, and controlled the game from midway through the first half on. After a slow start that had the Gators up only 11-8 with 9:19 left in the first period, they closed the half on a 25-6 run that closed off most Mercer avenues to a comeback.

That the Bears played the Gators even — 41-41 — in the second half was really no cause for concern, as even sharpshooter Ri’an Holland making five of his 10 threes was only part of a 7-for-19 night by the Bears. Florida harassed them into 17 turnovers, too, and limited them to nine assists on another fine night for Mike White’s defense.

On offense, the day belonged to Gators who showed grit: Justin Leon, who had a career-high 17 points, had three offensive boards; John Egbunu and Devin Robinson had four each. KeVaughn Allen, who made just three of his 12 shots, still mustered 15 points by virtue of sinking all seven of his free throws.

That more than made up for a dismal shooting night from the field, as the Gators shot under 37 percent and under 31 percent from three. Florida’s lead swelled to as many as 27 points in the second half, and never dwindled under 16.

Two games into a barnstorming tour of the Sunshine State that is set to include a lot of NCAA-caliber teams, Florida has two wins by more than 20 points.

Just wait until the Gators come home.