The Florida Gators have won nine straight games against the Georgia Bulldogs in basketball. Saturday’s victory was the toughest of them all — though it was not supposed to be.
Oh, the ‘Dawgs never led. And Florida scored a total of 102 points.
But it was one of those games where exhaling felt like a relief. A stressful final 10 minutes of the second half plus an overtime frame put the Gator Nation on the edge of their seats.
The good news is that Florida pulled out a 102-98 win despite allowing 35 points to RJ Melendez and 54 points in the paint by the Bulldogs.
Where do we start with the five takeaways from Florida-Georgia?
Let’s start with the inside game
It really is where Florida built a big lead and where they had to go at the end. Florida won the rebounding battle 48-27 with Micah Handlogten going a bit nuts with 17 rebounds to go along with his 23 points.
The biggest of those rebounds, however, belonged to Will Richard, who knifed inside to grab a missed jumper and put it back to put Florida up by seven in OT with less than a minute to go.
“I just tried to jump as high as I could and lay it in,” said Richard.
Richard continues to play like an All-SEC player with 18 points and seven rebounds in this one.
What was the deal with the defense?
It hasn’t been good all season, but if you thought it improved against Mississippi State, no, that’s just the way those Bulldogs play offense. This one got a little crazy because Florida turned it over 19 times and because the Gators gave up so many lay-ups.
Still, Florida found a way to win thanks in part to seven points in overtime by Zyon Pullin, who had 20 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
That’s a pretty sweet line.
And Florida was 7-for-7 at the free throw line in OT.
Now that’s a way to start
It certainly was the kind of start that Todd Golden wanted to see in a conference game at home. The Gators didn’t let the noon start leave sleep in their eyes as they shot 59.4% from the field.
Also, after getting outrebounded by Mississippi State on Wednesday, Florida won the first-half battle of the boards by six (it would get worse for Georgia). UF led 24-9 early and after Georgia cut it to six, finishing out the half with a Pullin stop-and-pop for a 47-34 lead.
But then it got weird
The Gators again played well to start the half and led by as many as 21. But for the second straight game at home, Florida struggled to hold the lead. You would think that knowing that Georgia is a comeback team and you just went through this scenario three days ago, well …
This time, Georgia came all the way back (as the Bulldogs did in Tallahassee from 17 down earlier in the year) to tie the game.
Georgia had a chance to win it at the end, but a steal by Will Richard gave him a chance to take a last shot.
It rimmed out and overtime beckoned.
“Obviously, we let them off the hook,” Golden said.
Obviously, beating Georgia never gets old
Because it’s Georgia. Because it’s Mike White. Because it made it nine in a row. Because you can’t lose home-court advantage. I could go on, but you get how important it was, especially with games at Kentucky and Texas A&M looming next week.
This is a team that has to outscore opponents and the Gators have been able to do that 14 times in 20 tries. They are 4-3 in a difficult conference.
“I’ll never be upset after a win,” Golden said. “But we do have to play more fluidly and comfortably with a lead.”
Florida next travels to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats in a rematch of the SEC opening loss for the Gators on Wednesday, Jan. 31. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. ET and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.