The Gators ran away with the win in the second half after trailing for most of the first. Walter Clayton Jr. led all scorers with 28, and Tyrese Samuel also reached the 20-point as he led the frontcourt with Micah Handlogten injured early on.
Freshmen Alex Condon and Thomas Haugh filled in for Handlogten, playing career-high minutes to varied levels of success. Zyon Pullin also saw increased minutes with Riley Kugel continuing to struggle.
It was a late start with a 9:30 p.m. ET tip-off, but Florida looked anything but tired on the court. Here’s what we learned about the Gators on Wednesday.
This team doesn't quit
It took almost the entire first half for Florida to take the lead, but the Gators never really looked back after Thomas Haugh’s buzzer-beating three to close it out.
This team doesn’t prefer to play from behind, but there’s a comfortability among the players whenever they are trailing. They stick to the plan and can tack on points in a hurry. An 8-0 run in just 90 seconds wiped out the Panthers’ lead at the end of the first half, and that’s the kind of stuff that winning teams do.
It’s early, but this looks like a gritty and fun team at Florida.
Riley Kugel had a shaky night
Riley Kugel had a rough night, shooting just two of nine on the night thanks to a few errant three-point shots. Right now, Kugel looks rough around the edges. His draft stock hasn’t taken a hit quite yet, but it could if he continues to play this wild style.
This feels like a case of early-season jitters, but it’s worth monitoring after Kowacie Reeves went through similar issues last season. Reeves transferred out and is with Georgia Tech now. Kugel isn’t likely to follow the same path, but these things have a way of snowballing before they get better.
Handlogten is hurt but that might be okay
Florida starting center Micah Handlogten went down after just one minute in this one, and he was ruled out for the rest of the game by halftime. The Marshall transfer has been a strong presence for the Gators through four games, but Todd Golden showed that his team has enough depth to get through a tough game without him.
Alex Condon and Thomas Haugh benefitted the most from Handlogten’s absence. Both played more than 20 minutes, and Tyrese Samuel finished the night with a 20-point double-double. Condon sometimes looks a bit clunky, but there’s a good presence down low and on defense. Hauge drained a buzzer-beater three to end the first half and laid down a nice dunk in the game’s final minutes, but he found himself in foul trouble with four.
Handlogten has averaged 10 points and 8.5 rebounds so far, though, so they need to get him back.
The two transfer PGs are making a difference
Walter Clayton Jr. has been everything Florida needed at point guard so far this season, and he was the star against Pitt with 26 points, five rebounds and two assists.
Clayton got hot from deep early and never really cooled off. He hit six of eight three balls and finished the day 10-of-16 overall from the field. Clayton’s a score-first guard, but he fits at the point in the Gators’ offense. Todd Golden went with a smaller lineup at one point, putting Zyon Pullin at the point and Clayton as a combo guard. Pullin finished the night with 10 points and eight assists.
Both men are in their first year with the Orange and Blue, but they are getting Gator Nation excited for what could be this season.
Got a chance to earn some respect
Florida advances to the championship game of the NIT Tip-Off tournament against nationally-ranked Baylor on Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET.
The Bears check in at No. 12 on the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll and No. 13 on the AP Top 25 College Basketball Poll, which means Florida would likely jump into top-25 consideration with a win.
The Gators have yet to receive a vote in either poll despite looking like a decent team through five games. Now on a national stage, it’s time to show the country what Gator basketball is all about.