The Florida Gators spent Thursday’s matchup with Saint Joseph’s at the 2019 Charleston Classic looking alternately like the team they want to resemble and the team they have been for most of this season.
This Friday, they get another chance to look sharp against a team that they have some more history with, as the Gators meet Miami (noon, ESPN2 or WatchESPN) in the tournament’s semifinal round.
Florida’s first half against the Hawks on Thursday was about as good a half as the Gators have put together this year: Seven threes fell and the ball moved around, and even without much from Kerry Blackshear Jr., limited to just three minutes by foul trouble, Florida built a 16-point halftime lead.
The second half was more of a white-knuckle experience, as an early flagrant foul on Blackshear — the result of a questionably-officiated moment that resulted in Blackshear’s foul, a common foul on a St. Joe’s player, and technical fouls on both teams — left the Gators without their decorated grad transfer, and the return of their shooting woes made the game one that Keyontae Johnson and Andrew Nembhard had to take over. Johnson did well with most of his touches, scoring a career-high 22 points, but Nembhard’s 16 required 20 shots to compile, and his failures at the rim were vexatious.
But Miami had its own struggles putting away a lesser foe on Friday, seeing its own double-digit lead over Missouri State shrink to as few as two points before some late free throws held off the Bears. At 4-1 with a loss to Louisville on the year, Miami has mostly taken care of business against teams not really on Florida’s level, but also has not seen a team — other than Louisville, which is in full flight to begin this year — with Florida’s talent. If the ‘Canes can protect the ball as they have this year, they may leave Florida with yet another game in which halfcourt execution tells the story.
On the line in this game? A chance to make the Classic’s final, yes, but also a possible meeting with Xavier, the only currently-ranked team in the field. And for Florida, a win in this semifinal means the final’s matchup is probably a no-lose situation for the Gators: Either they get a shot at Xavier or they get a chance to get their win back against a UConn team they just saw last Sunday — and at a “neutral” site that should be Florida-friendly.