Florida 112, Jackson State 69
NEW ORLEANS (AP)—The Florida Gators lounged around their hotel for two days, watching the NCAA tournament and waiting for their first-round game.
It may have caused them to be a little lethargic to start. Getting behind early helped them wake up.
The top-seeded Gators responded from a lackluster first half with the best half in school history and routed Jackson State 112-69 in the opening round Friday night.
“We’ve been ready for so long, and once we get out there, we were a little too antsy,” center Al Horford said. “We just had to settle down. Once we did that, we were fine.”
Corey Brewer led the defending national champions with 21 points, but it was another balanced effort from the team that returned all five starters from last season.
Joakim Noah had 17 points and 12 rebounds, Horford added 15 points and 16 boards, and Lee Humphrey sparked a huge run with four 3-pointers in the first 5 minutes of the second half.
Chris Richard came off the bench to finish with a career-high 17 points, and Taurean Green had a career-high 12 assists for Florida (30-5), which will play Purdue (22-11) on Sunday.
“I think we were a little amped up,” Brewer said. “You have a lot of energy going through you when it’s the NCAA tournament. We were ready to go. I think we were a little too ready. But we settled down, and I think we’ll be fine now.”
The Gators were clearly bigger, faster and more talented than the Tigers (21-14). However, they didn’t show it until after halftime.
But they really put on a show to start the second half—much like they did last year in the Final Four against George Mason and UCLA—and finished with a school-record 71 points after the break. The 71 points were more than 39 of the 65 tournament teams scored in the their entire first-round games.
Florida also ended with a 62-19 rebounding advantage—an NCAA tournament record.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said.
Trey Johnson, the nation’s second-leading scorer, finished with 25 points on 8-of-21 shooting for Jackson State. Grant Maxey and Julius Young added 12 apiece.
“Their size and athleticism really wore us down in the second half,” Jackson State coach Tevester Anderson said. “In the first five minutes of the second half, they really turned it up on us. I don’t see any weaknesses in them. They pushed us around pretty good out there. It seemed like they got every loose ball and rebound.”
Humphrey got things started for Florida in the second half with a 3-pointer, Noah followed with a layup, then Brewer hit from behind the arc.
Jackson State called timeout in hopes of squashing Florida’s momentum, but it didn’t work. Humphrey drained another 3, Brewer sank a free throw and Noah’s putback capped a 17-6 spurt.
The Gators weren’t done, either.
Humphrey hit another 3-pointer—and the beatdown was on.
Florida made 14 of its first 17 shots in the second half and manhandled the Tigers the rest of the way, looking very much like a team capable of becoming the first to repeat as national champions since Duke in 1992.
“Just because we did things well today don’t mean that you’re going to do them the next game,” Noah said. “Teams are completely different. Right now is just all about the moment—focusing on the task.”
The Gators looked little like national champs in the opening half, which was wild and maybe a little scary for them.
Florida trailed by five early in the game and had plenty go wrong. The entire arena seemed to be rooting against the Gators. Noah turned his right ankle during a layup attempt, then squirmed around in pain before walking it off — surely causing Donovan a few anxious moments. And the Gators struggled to make baskets.
Green and Humphrey were a combined 0-for-10 from the floor in the first 20 minutes. They missed nine 3-pointers, most of them wide open.
The big men picked up the slack—not surprising since Jackson State’s tallest starter was 3 inches shorter than Horford and 4 inches shorter than Noah.
Florida finished the half with a 34-14 rebounding advantage, but still only had a 41-35 lead.
Jackson State used a full-court press to force the Gators into 10 turnovers and some ill-advised shots. Florida settled down after the break and made the press moot by making just about everything.
“To think that you’re going to walk into this tournament and beat people with ease is just not going to happen,” Donovan said. “Probably playing that last game of the second day, sitting around watching games all day when they’re in their hotel room … there probably was a little bit of excitement and enthusiasm and maybe they got a little bit ahead of themselves. But I think if you look at every single game, every game is a battle and there’s some form of adversity that you’ve got to overcome.”
Not surprisingly, Florida overcame it thanks mostly to Humphrey. The soft-spoken country boy from Tennessee did the same thing in the tournament last season and finished the six games 22-of-48 from behind the arc.
He made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to start the second half in the semifinal game against George Mason, and did the same thing in the championship game against UCLA.
He turned double-digit leads into routs. He pretty much did the same thing Friday, helping Florida extend the record of top seeds to 92-0 in the first round since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
“The first half, we didn’t shoot the ball well,” Brewer said. “In the second half, we were knocking them.”
- Florida 112, Jackson State 69
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