For the second straight day, the Florida Gators played one of their best halves of basketball this year in the first half of a game in the 2019 Charleston Classic.
The difference against Miami on Friday? They followed it up with an even better half, one that trivialized a game against a good team in a 78-58 win.
Kerry Blackshear Jr. being around, available, and awesome was a core part of that half and that difference, to be fair. A day after playing just a handful of minutes due to foul trouble and an ejection for a flagrant foul, Blackshear largely avoided whistles and put up his fourth double-double of the year, scoring 20 points and adding 11 rebounds and five assists.
But Florida also shot better from the field (55 percent) and from deep (53 percent) against the Hurricanes than it did against Saint Joseph’s, and weathered a long spate of hot shooting by Miami — which was itself over 50 percent from the field and deep until well into the second half — with tireless defense that ultimately produced 14 Miami turnovers and eight steals.
And with Andrew Nembhard taking a more facilitative role (eight points, nine assists, four steals) and setting up Florida’s offense rather than serving as it, the Gators looked balanced and dangerous. Scottie Lewis and Keyontae Johnson were the primary beneficiaries of Nembhard’s distribution: Lewis scored 13 points, snagging eight rebounds, and recording three blocks while playing disruptive defense in what was his best game as a Gator, while Johnson had 13 points and seven boards of his own on a variety of moves.
The effort extended beyond the starting lineup, though. Ques Glover’s 11 points off the bench showed his ability to spell Nembhard and lead an effective second unit on offense, and Noah Locke and Omar Payne each chipping in six points on relatively quiet days helped prevent any significant droughts and produced two long runs — a 20-2 spree in the first half and a 24-4 burst in the second.
And after a Miami three tied the proceedings at 45-45 early in the second half, Florida went on to outscore the ‘Canes by 20 over the game’s final 15:51 of play — without a made field goal by Blackshear, whose contributions during that time were limited to two free throws and some boards.
Florida will now have to wait until Sunday to play again in the Classic’s final, and will have to wait until later on Friday to know its foe — the winner of the evening’s Xavier-UcConn matchup.
And for the first time this year, it should be an exciting wait for Florida fans.