Mike White pulled his starting five some two minutes into Florida’s rivalry game against Miami.
Call it a message to his team that was delivered via freshman Keith Stone.
The freshman scored 15 points in an impressive coming-out party, John Egbunu came on late and the Gators overcame several sluggish stretches to knock off the Miami Hurricanes, 65-56, in the third place game of the Advocare Invitational. The win snapped a two game losing streak to their on again, off again rivals. Good thing, because was the last meeting for the foreseeable future between these two on again, off again in-state rivals, as Florida and Miami are not currently in discussions to meet again on the hardwood.
Without the spark provided by Stone, the Gators might have lost this one, too.
White didn’t like the low energy level his starters began the game with, so he made a clean sweep and replaced his starting five with his second line for a few minutes before mixing and matching the rest of the way. Slowly but surely, Florida dug out of a 13-5 hole to eventually tie it at 16 on a three by KeVaughn Allen. The game then devolved into a defensive struggle with neither team being able to go up by more than six.
Meanwhile, Stone did a little bit of everything to make sure the Gators kept pace. He connected on both threes he attempted, scored three more buckets inside, blocked a shot and forced a turnover. His most important contribution was hitting a layup to push the Gators’ lead back up 53-47 with just under six minutes to go.
Egbunu salted it away from there.
The South Florida transfer finished off the Hurricanes with a pair of earth shattering dunks in the final minutes, the second of which made it 59-51 with 2:34 to go off a nice lob from Kasey Hill. For good measure, he muscled his way in for a layup two possessions later.
I know a lot of y’all are focused on the Gator football team, as well you should because of the frustrating loss to FSU and impending SEC Championship Game, so let’s bring you up to speed on what could be a truly special team.
With the win, the Gators sit pretty at 6-1 with the meat of the non conference schedule looming ahead: after a “road” game against North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida will then square off against a pair of quality ACC teams in Duke and then Florida State before finishing their OOC slate against Charlotte and Little Rock. Florida’s lone defeat came by five points to now 8th ranked Gonzaga in the semifinals- a game they led for most of the way- and with two quality wins against Seton Hall and Miami, the Gators earned themselves the #24 spot in the AP Poll. More importantly than the simple stats, Kasey Hill may finally be putting it all together in his senior year, Egbunu has developed into a Patric Young-esque monster, and Florida appears to have found a hidden gem in transfer Canyon Barry.
So keep your eye out for this team. Remember where they were just two short years ago, and even last year. It figured to be a long road back to glory after Billy Donovan took the Gators to the Final Four, but there may be less of that road ahead than we originally thought. And while it’s always great to beat Miami given how rarely these two schools play, the big takeaway is that Florida didn’t just win the last game of a dying rivalry. They may have experienced their rebirth of their program, too.