The Florida Gators men’s basketball team played unquestionably its worst game of the season on Sunday night in Portland.
On Wednesday night in Gainesville, they played maybe their best, flattening Florida A&M in a 102-62 rout that surely restored some confidence.
It definitely helped that Kowacie Reeves, the Gators’ talented sophomore who sat for much of their 1-2 trip to the Phil Knight Legacy, showed his confidence did not flag almost from the opening tip. Reeves scored 11 of Florida’s first 25 points and matched his career high with 17 points, showing no signs of resentment after being essentially a healthy scratch for that tournament.
And it also helped that Trey Bonham also bounced back from his disappointing final game in Portland, in which he mustered just three points against a stifling West Virginia defense after averaging 21 points per game in the Gators’ three previous contests. Bonham poured in 23 points of his own, mostly from distance, where he matched a Florida record set by Matt Walsh for accuracy without a miss by draining all seven of his threes.
But while Bonham and Reeves carried Florida in the first half, neither half featuring much scoring from Colin Castleton — whose 11 points were maybe the third-best part of a line that also included six rebounds, five assists, and four blocks — or any minutes from either Kyle Lofton or Will Richard, each of whom sat with minor injuries allowed for the second half to become a highlight reel.
Mostly, the clips were from Alex Fudge, who had a series of massive dunks midway through the period and scored all of his 16 points after halftime, also adding most of his 10 rebounds in his first collegiate double-double. But Riley Kugel, Niels Lane, Myreon Jones, and Jason Jitoboh all got their moments, and Florida’s only scholarship player to see the floor and not score was starter C.J. Felder, who, like Castleton, didn’t need to play many minutes with the score out of hand.
Florida did good work after intermission to put distance between itself and FAMU, turning a 19-point halftime lead — a relatively small one for a team that shot a scalding 69 percent from the field in the first half, thanks in no small part to allowing five Rattlers threes — into a chasm that spanned to as many as 49 points, with Jones’s second three of the season putting Florida up 93-44 before some moments with little-used Gators reserves and walk-ons shortened that lead slightly.
The late leaks didn’t prevent Florida’s first 100-point outing under Todd Golden — and first as a program since the unbelievable start to the 2017-18 season, in which the Gators topped the century mark four times in the season’s first six games.
Against a woeful Florida A&M team likely destined for 20 losses — and almost certainly on track for 10 of them over a gauntlet of a non-conference slate with Georgia, Kentucky, and Purdue still to come — this was an expected result.
But it was an exhilarating game. And it was also one that probably gave the Gators a welcome chance to exhale.