The Florida Gators led almost from wire to wire against the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, getting double-digit scoring from four players en route to a 70-63 victory that seals a season sweep of their Peach State rivals.
That doesn’t mean it was a pretty or painless victory.
Florida committed 20 turnovers — 12 of them recorded as Georgia steals — and shot just 26 percent from three on the day, also allowing a lead that was as large as 18 in the first half and 15 at multiple points in the second half to dwindle to just five points with 27 seconds remaining.
But in the end, it was defense — in the form of Colin Castleton netting his third block of the day — that extinguished the Dawgs’ comeback attempt, and defense that carried the day for the Gators ... even if a fine Tre Mann attempt at playing it in the final minute got him an elbow to the face and a dubious foul call for his trouble.
Georgia’s Sahvir Wheeler scored 27 points, a career high, and collected four rebounds, four assists, and five steals, but only Tye Fagan (14 points, six rebounds) joined him in double figures. And aside from a short stretch of heating up, Georgia was even worse from distance than Florida, making just four of 20 threes.
Georgia only had nine turnovers, but excellent rotations also limited the Dawgs to just nine assists, and while Tom Crean’s team scored often in transition, Florida actually increased its nation-leading average in blocks per game, also erasing a handful of runout attempts with speed rather than swats, Scottie Lewis and Anthony Duruji each wrecking shop on the hoof.
They did so while combining for just 10 points, while Mann and Tyree Appleby each chipped in 13 as starters, Castleton led all Gators with 14, and Ques Glover contributed a surprising 11 points from the bench.
The sloppiness was widespread, though. Appleby was credited with five turnovers, but could’ve had more if not for a few fortuitous deflections; Castleton and Lewis had four each, as well, and Mann, Glover, and Noah Locke (3-for-10 from the field for nine points, though he did notch his 200th career three in the process) each coughed the ball up twice.
And against a relatively small team with no pretenses of hitting the defensive glass hard, Florida mustered just seven offensive boards, with Duruji’s three leading all players.
The feeling, after this win, is that it could have been a blowout, had the Gators — who were sluggish enough early for Mike White to call a timeout after Georgia’s easy first basket and send in a line change from his bench — turned in a more focused and connected 40 minutes.
With road trips to Auburn and Kentucky and a meeting with what should be full-strength Missouri still left, the Gators are likely going to need better focus to bring wins into view.