Through the first eight or so minutes of the Florida Gators’ tilt with the Providence Friars at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Tuesday night, it was hard to have any takeaway from the game — or to hear over the referees’ whistles.
The men in stripes called a staggering 15 fouls over the first 7:25 of play, setting the tone for a game that would feature 46 fouls and 58 free throws, with each team shooting at least 24.
But it was after that first painful stretch that Florida found its form — and left the Friars fried.
Florida got a combined 30 points from guards Andrew Nembhard (nine points, seven assists), Ques Glover (11 points), and Tre Mann (10 points), shot well from the floor, and played resilient defense against Providence, gliding free of the Friars in the first half and cruising to a 83-51 victory.
Nembhard, Glover, and Mann — who played together for significant stretches, likely because of foul trouble in the first half and their success as a trio in the second — were the story of the night for Florida’s offense, with the sophomore point guard commanding the Gators’ attack as well as he ever has and the two freshmen creating for themselves and scoring on a number of acrobatic finishes. Add another 11 points from Noah Locke, more than half on two second-half corner threes, and Florida’s backcourt contributed just under half of the Gators’ points on the night — and made a Keyontae Johnson line that mimicked Kerry Blackshear’s typically excellent production (19 points, 10 rebounds) an afterthought. (Blackshear, hampered by foul trouble, had just seven points and three boards.)
And Florida’s defense was exceptional, even though Providence’s struggles made it look ever more like a team that will miss the NCAA Tournament. The Friars missed all of their threes before halftime, and wound up making just one of 17; despite doubling their five makes from the first half in the second frame, Providence mustered just 15 makes on 57 attempts (26.3 percent) on the night.
But while Florida did well to turn the Friars over, forcing 15 turnovers and racking up nine steals, this wasn’t really a game in which defense fueled offense; rather, it was Florida’s best game this season, one in which offensive execution and defensive intensity were both present for almost the entirety of a 40-minute affair.
Florida led 12-10 at the 12:10 mark in the first half, in a neat bit of symmetry, but would go on a 10-0 run immediately afterward, and eventually led by 15 at halftime. And though Providence came out of the locker room relatively hot — for its night, at least — the Gators wouldn’t let their lead slip, never leading by fewer than those 15 points in the second half.
If these Gators, who have scuffled and struggled while trying to put together an effort like this one, take any lessons to heart from this game in the heart of New York City?