In early January, Florida fans gave Phlandrous Fleming grief for openly celebrating his hometown Georgia Bulldogs winning a national championship in a sport he does not play.
In late February, Fleming gave those Bulldogs grief and then some upon his return to that hometown — and while he probably won’t get many apologies from Florida fans, what he got his Gators is more important: A win.
Fleming scored a Florida-high 27 points and added five rebounds and four assists in a dominant performance and Tyree Appleby complimented him with a third consecutive 20-point game in the Gators’ 84-72 win over Georgia in Athens on Saturday.
Fleming’s finest day as a Gator came with hot shooting — especially on elbow jumpers that fueled a 7-for-9 performance inside the arc — and tenacious defense, but it could have been worse for the Dawgs, as he made just four of nine threes and tried a bit too hard on what should have been a fifth assist midway through the second half, no-looking a fastball to Colin Castleton that would have been easily jammed home by Florida’s big man had it been a lob.
And Fleming and Appleby being hot — Appleby drained five of his nine threes, giving him three or more makes in three straight games for the second time as a collegian and first time as a Gator — helped cover for both a relatively quiet day of scoring from Castleton and some spotty defense from the Gators.
Both teams began the game by firing away from distance and hitting, each draining four of their first six threes while playing well past the scheduled under-16 media timeout; Castleton was most involved in this game during that stretch, but as a distributor, racking up four assists in the early goings. He would finish with 10 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and three blocks, another well-rounded line if well short of the career-high 29 points he poured in against Arkansas earlier in the week.
After the second media timeout, Florida took control, starting an 11-0 run that Fleming finished with a personal 7-0 spate, pushing the Gators to a 29-20 advantage.
And while Georgia answered immediately with a 7-0 run of its own, Florida controlled most of the backstretch of the first half, getting to intermission with a 41-34 edge.
The Gators bolted from the gate in the second half, getting four baskets from four different scorers — on assists from three different players — in a 10-0 run, and kept their lead above seven points thereafter, with Appleby and Fleming combining to score all 12 points in a 12-2 run that answered a 7-0 Georgia run slicing Florida’s lead to seven.
And though Florida’s defense left plenty to be desired — the Dawgs scored 1.15 points per possession on the day, their best number in SEC play, and hit nine of 23 threes — the Gators’ own offensive explosion (including 14 threes on 31 tries) was good for 1.34 PPP, their best number all year, and a fairly comfortable victory.
It will not do much for Florida’s standing when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, as a double-digit win over a lowly team like Georgia can only sort of defend ground if it does not feature a lopsided, advanced metrics-moving final score.
But Florida really only needed to avoid disaster in this game. And their hometown hero, playing in front of dozens of friends and family members, made sure his team did that.