The Florida Gators went to College Station on Wednesday night hoping to get the bad taste of a dismal loss at Ole Miss out of their mouths.
Feeding Noah Locke left a sweeter aftertaste, it turned out.
Locke stroked five threes and scored a season-high 21 points, pacing the Gators until their defense clamped down on the Aggies for a 78-61 victory.
Four of Locke’s threes came before halftime, as he benefited from great ball movement to snipe away from all around the arc and score 14 points in the first period. And while two of his fellow sophomores would put together even better lines in the box score — Andrew Nembhard led all scorers with 24 points, getting them on both drives and triples, and Keyontae Johnson had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists — it was Locke who handled the load in the first half, while surprisingly good shooting from A&M kept the Aggies within six points throughout the period and down just three at half.
That closeness wouldn’t last. After a close first four minutes, Florida stretched its lead to double digits — where it would stay for good — on an extended 20-6 run, allowing just 11 points over the first 12:26 of play.
Florida’s shooting — the Gators made 12 of 27 threes — made up for 14 turnovers and a quiet night from Kerry Blackshear, who scored six of his eight points at the line and got outrebounded by Tre Mann in a meeting with his former coach, Buzz Williams.
It was as close to a complete performance as Florida has put together since thumping Auburn in mid-January, and inarguably the Gators’ best showing in a true road game this year. And if there are more efforts like these in the offing, this team could still make some noise down the stretch in SEC play: It moved into a tie for fourth place with the win.
But for these Gators, continuing any level of play is a doubtful prospect, and something that will need to be seen to be believed.