The Florida Gators had things rolling in the first half at Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday.
Threes were falling. Their defense was harassing a charitable Georgia roster into turnovers and misses. Keith Stone and Jalen Hudson were making tangible contributions.
So turning a 10-point halftime edge into a 62-52 win, as the Gators did in Athens, isn’t that surprising, really.
But how they did it was remarkable.
Florida’s 33-23 lead at intermission? It would get erased and replaced by a five-point Georgia edge, as the Dawgs emerged from the locker room hotter than a Peach State summer and made 10 of their first 11 shots in the second period, including five threes, to click off a 25-10 run and take a 48-43 lead.
Stone, whose breakout eight-point first half featured an ice-veined three and a thunderous dunk off a drive from the arc and gave hope that he might be awakening after a sleepy start to SEC play? He would play only very briefly in the second period, suffering what looked like a serious leg injury while challenging a shot early on.
Hudson? He made no shots in the second half after a rhythm three early, but still managed to make an impact on the game, getting a crucial steal after a Noah Locke three to take back the lead that helped Florida put together a 5-0 spurt within a five-minute 10-0 run that gave the Gators control of the game again.
The usual suspects did some of their usual things, too.
KeVaughn Allen, whose senior season has increasingly been one of consistency and steadiness, led all scorers with 13 points, and made plays as a defender and playmaker. Kevarrius Hayes mixed his typically underwhelming offensive output (seven points on six shots) with tireless work on the boards (nine rebounds, six offensive) and as a defender. Keyontae Johnson continued his emergence as a willful wing with eight points and a career-high seven rebounds. And Andrew Nembhard had five assists to offset his mere five points.
But Florida, which has held second-half leads in all five of its SEC games this season, earned its second SEC win by doing what it had not done in league play, and taking back a lead it lost. That 10-0 run would turn into a game-closing 19-7 stretch in which Florida defended with discipline and tenacity and executed enough on offense to make that discipline and tenacity stand up.
These Gators still have a long way to go and much work to do if they want to see postseason play outside of the SEC Tournament — and if Stone misses extended time, the Gators’ path gets harder still to tread.
But these Gators showing some steel in their spines is at least a start.