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Florida 89, Stetson 51: Gators turn Hatters inside out

Florida shut off Stetson’s shooting, and romped as a result.

NCAA Basketball: Stetson at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Last Sunday, Florida got hammered by West Virginia, with the disinterested Gators taking an 84-55 loss right on the chin.

The week since has featured the Gators learning how to get off the canvas and punch back. And they continued their resurgence after that dispiriting loss with an 89-51 thumping of Stetson on this Sunday — their second straight win that could be their best effort of the season after what could well go down as their worst.

For the Gators, this game was all about taking Stetson’s key — excellent three-point shooting — and breaking it off in the lock. Florida played superb perimeter defense for the most part, extending their pressure and rotating well to limit the Hatters to a dismal 4-for-17 mark from behind the arc.

And while the Gators were slightly more vulnerable after a first half in which they gave up just one three to a team that arrived in Gainesville averaging 10 made threes per game this season, their offense getting into gear after a slow start trivialized this contest.

Will Richard sank all four of his threes — moving him to 15-for-27 from three on the year, so hot it would melt many things — and led the Gators with 14 points off the bench, but Florida’s five players in double figures and eight with five or more points represented the balanced attack that buried the Hatters. After scoring just 18 points in the first 12:55 of the first half, Florida went into halftime on a 15-5 run that got the Gators a double-digit lead — and then burst from the locker room on another 20-4 run to get fully clear of the Hatters.

The Gators would go on to double Stetson’s score at junctures in the second half, and lead by as many as 40 points, but the best play of the day was undoubtedly a big three from Florida’s biggest man.

That Jason Jitoboh triple was the first of the big man’s career.

And for a player who is still recovering from a gruesome eye injury that ended a breakout 2021-22 campaign — and jokingly dubbed himself the best shooter on the team in practice video Florida released earlier this fall — it was a welcome bit of fun for a team that may have taken its eyes off the ball in Portland, but sure seems to be seeing clearly after two straight blowouts of in-state opponents.