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Florida 92, Georgia 84: Hot-shooting Gators muzzle Dawgs in Athens

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Florida followed its most impressive win of the year with another fine showing.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

For a second straight game, the Florida Gators held a lead into and out of halftime, only building it after intermission.

For a second straight game, that translated into a win — and one, even if the final score of Florida 92, Georgia 84 is misleading, that should instill a fair bit of confidence in this team’s trajector.

Tre Mann led Florida with a career-high 23 points and added six rebounds and four assists, leading a three-guard attack that thrived for the second time this week. Noah Locke (16 points, four threes, two steals) and Tyree Appleby (14 points, four steals) joined Mann in double figures, and the triumvirate of starters averaged an enormous 44.5 points per game combined in wins over Tennessee and Georgia.

The 13 total steals they racked up helped, too, as Florida turned defense into offense and shot extremely well — 57 percent from the floor, 39 percent from three — as a result. Georgia committed just 13 turnovers, but 10 were Florida steals, and fueled fast breaks that punctured the Bulldogs’ defense time and again.

Smart, careful play by those guards — who took almost two thirds of the Gators’ shots on the day — became the solution to a 2-3 zone defense that Georgia switched into midway through the second half, with Mann hitting stepback jumpers and Appleby and Locke firing threes from the perimeter.

But just as Florida’s guards are providing scoring punch, its frontcourt is stepping up.

Omar Payne had 10 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks, following his excellent night against the Vols, and Colin Castleton was exceedingly efficient as usual, tallying his 14 points off the bench on just nine shots. Those two combined for seven of Florida’s 16 offensive rebounds, with Anthony Duruji snagging four of his own.

Add the fine hustle showed by Osayi Osifo — six points, five boards, and five fouls while doing yeoman’s work defensively — and it appears that Florida has actually fashioned something like a frontcourt rotation after dropping three of four games while mostly getting pulverized inside.

Florida also won mostly without the help of the referees, as the Gators shot just 17 free throws to Georgia’s 24 despite committing one fewer foul. (It helped that Georgia was busy brick-laying, making just 13 of those tries.)

And that final margin? Deeply deceptive, as Florida’s 16-point lead with just over five minutes to play was never seriously threatened by Georgia’s flurry of 22 points in that final stretch, only dwindling to the decisive margin of eight.

With Castleton returned and seemingly healthy and Scottie Lewis on the verge of doing so, Florida is finding form on the court as it finally gets as close to healthy as it will be.

For a team left for dead by many just a week ago, this is a surprising Lazarus act.