A little over a week after Florida basketball was seemingly snubbed from the top 25 polls, the Gators haven’t responded in a way to justify inclusion among the nation’s best.
After dropping its contest last week against Wake Forest, Florida was hoping for a nice and easy win against Merrimack.
The Gators eventually pulled away for a 20-point victory, but the road to get there was anything but smooth.
Florida Basketball: Survive and advance
Merrimack is not some sneaky mid-major program that teams will tremble to see on their side of the bracket in March. The Warriors were 18-16 last season out of the NEC, and came into Gainesville 4-5, including an overtime loss to Alabama State.
But almost 11 minutes into the game, the Gators were staring at a 21-11 deficit. Florida could not find its jump shot as its first 13 points came off of either free throws, layups, or dunks. It wasn’t until Walter Clayton hit a three-pointer with seven minutes left in the first half that the Gators made any kind of jump shot.
Aided by locking Merrimack down and only giving up two points from nine minutes to play until there were four minutes left, the Gators were able to claw their way back and went into halftime only down 31-30.
Once both teams came out of the locker room for the second half, Florida basketball looked like the squad we expected at tip-off. Clayton scored 21 points in the second half, the Gators as a team scored 47, and Florida was able to pull away for a 77-57 victory.
Clayton finished with 26 points while Alex Condon had 16 rebounds, nine of which were offensive rebounds.
The win moves the Gators to 5-3 on the season. The next two games for Florida will be in the Sunshine State, but not at the O’Connell Center. On Saturday the Gators will play the Richmond Spiders in Sunrise as part of the Orange Bowl Classic.
Next week Florida will be in Lakeland to take on East Carolina.