Todd Golden reacts to Florida’s white-knuckle win over Georgia

Todd Golden and the Florida Gators overcame a furious second-half rally by Mike White’s Georgia Bulldogs inside the O’Connell Center to earn a 102-98 overtime win on Saturday. At one point, the Orange and Blue held a 21-point lead but that all evaporated in the final 10 minutes.

For 30 minutes, Florida was firing on all cylinders and looked to cruise to their third-straight victory and fourth in Southeastern Conference play this year. Unfortunately, the late letdown that has plagued the team this season once again reared its ugly head, making things far too close for comfort.

Following the triumph over the program’s most fierce rivals, Golden spoke to the media about his thoughts on Saturday afternoon’s outcome. Take a look below to see what he had to say.

On the late game drama once again causing trouble

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Honestly, I think similar to what happened on Wednesday a little bit. (We) got a big lead, thought we played excellent for the first thirty minutes of the game — about as good as we can play probably, to get up 21, or whatever it was and — you know, there are certain things that happen that when you try to fight. You know, it’s hard to overcome.

Again, human nature element a little bit, they started throwing in some shots, you know, playing with the ultimate freedom, tied it back up to go press again, we beat it and I thought we did a better job trying to stay aggressive. Too many turnovers, though. I thought we were one shot away from obviously breaking it open in that stretch and I got to give them a lot of credit for the way they fought.

We had too many turnovers tonight, you know, looking at the box score, obviously haven’t reviewed the game yet, but we had seven at halftime, we ended up with 19. That’s been something that’s been really good for us, the way we take care of the ball, we did not do that tonight in the second half. Against a team like Georgia that plays undersize, you just got to fight the three-point line a little better.

Gave up 11 threes, which can flip the game and our two-point defense was bad in the second half. I thought they did a good job of exploiting some mismatches and driving. But, a win’s a win.

What the team can learn from the experience... again

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

The great thing is we can learn from it positively and not have a tough weekend thinking about a brutal loss. That’s part of growing as a program, you know, we’ve obviously improved over these last couple weeks.

You don’t get up by 19 and 21 in these two games at home against some good teams if you’re not improving from where we were a month ago and I think the next step for our group is just pushing through and playing the full 40, you know, regardless of the score, regardless of the situation, just staying true to what we want to do in terms of our execution, in terms of taking care of the ball and I didn’t think we did that last 10 minutes.

But, I thought we didn’t put him on overtime, you know, came out after the first turnover, stayed aggressive, got out in transition, couple offensive rebounds, we dominated the boards, that’s why we won the game and it’s a lot easier to learn from this being 4-3 in the league and winning three in a row for sure.

What he told his team during the overtime break

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

At that point is just all about staying poised or regaining your poise, right? A game that we were leading for, you know, we still never trailed so we led for 42 minutes, it was a gut-punch to see triple zeros across the scoreboard, across the clock and it be tied knowing that we have to go into overtime.

The message was, “Hey, we can respond one or two ways in the situation, we can either feel sorry for ourselves and, you know, think we blew it and just kind of not regain that focus and regain that fight. Or we can buck up and get back to playing basketball.”

And again after that first possession where we turned it over in overtime, I thought we did a really good job of being aggressive. (Zyon Pullin) started with that and-one. I think Will [Richard] got a huge offensive rebound for a Tyrese (Samuel) put back and we started scoring and we extended it, you know, with the exception of that possession where (Walter Clayton Jr.) threw it deep, I thought we did a good job of getting that thing to the finish line in overtime.

His take on Will Richard's exception play this season

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

I think he’s become a more complete player, and I think a big part of his offensive success is because of the success he’s having on defense and on the glass.

You know, in basketball, it’s not like football, man. You can’t split up offense, you can’t split up defense and special teams. Everybody’s got to play all three and I think for Will early on in the year, when his shooting percentages and his numbers were down a little bit, just like everybody, he was thinking about that.

The reality is the way to get yourself out of those slumps is to get back to guarding, get back to getting on the glass and just let the offense come to you, and I think that’s the reason he did a good job really since after the Kentucky game, and to your point, when he does well and produces, we win, you know, so it’s something that’s really important to us.

And I thought, you know, for the most part, minus the turnovers, he had another really good game today.

On his team's failure to contain RJ MElendez

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

It was a tough matchup for us because the reality was they were playing what I would consider four smalls. Abdur-Rahim is more of a wing than he is a four, Melendez is more of a wing than he is a four, and our advantage in my opinion in this game was our size and our physicality, and that’s why we out-rebounded them by 21.

So they were trading a little bit off the glass and we were trading a little bit being able to keep them in front and stay attached, and, you know, credit to Melendez, because he hasn’t been a very good three-point shooter this year. He was around 22% coming into this game — I think he was 6-for-19 in conference play, and he banged six today, so he doubled his total.

And we’ve had to absorb some really good individual efforts over the past three games. Bates got us at Missouri, who got us the other night, Hubbard got us a little bit, Knecht, and obviously tonight Melendez, 35, I mean it’s not good enough at all, and something we have to do better when we see him in Athens in a couple weeks.

Regarding Micah Handlogten's breakout performance

JMatt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
JMatt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

He played great. He’s clearly coming on and playing some of his best basketball.

And what I think is really neat about Micah is if you go back to early on in the year, and I think as a casual fan or someone that watches us, he’d say “Man, this guy’s got really good potential, but he looks young out there, he’s getting out-physicaled in some games, whatever.”

Then fast forward to the end of January: a guy that looks like he belongs now. You know, you don’t give Georgia a 23-and-17 unless you’re a dude, and he’s just played really, really well for us. I think this is by far the best week he’s had as a Gator, and the great thing for him is he’s just a great young man.

(He is) someone that pours into being coached and pours into practice, so I think he will just continue to get better and better and better. I don’t see any regression coming. A lot of his plays are off of effort and hustle, you know, he’s still fighting physicality around the rim, and, you know, when he plays like that, obviously it just gives us a huge lift. I’m proud of him.

How much Richard's and Handlogten's progress has helped the Gators

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Very much so, you know, I think it’s kind of what’s allowed us to take a little bit of a jump as a team, and something that we need to continue for us to make that next jump, which we’re looking to do.

But those are guys — especially Will and Micah — that we counted on big time coming into the year so early on with some inconsistency, we saw some inconsistent results. But as he’s continued to play really well, I think it’s allowed us to take kind of a big step.

On Florida's pass distribution and the 23 logged assists

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

I think we’re playing really well together. I think we’re doing a good job that way. The negative is obviously the turnovers, and that’s something that, again, it’s been I think the two reasons we’ve been able to make the jump over the past couple weeks.

You know, I thought our perimeter defense and our transition defense made a jump, and I thought our ball-handling and ball-security had made a big jump, and I thought both of them regressed a little bit today, you know, so as you go back and get ready for Kentucky on Wednesday, that has to be a huge emphasis for us.

If we take care of the ball, we’re going to be really good offensively, because we get on the glass so well, you know, we had 16 offensive rebounds tonight, we almost got 50% of our misses back, so a great formula is just getting a shot, as crazy as that sounds.

But we can’t come in with 19 turnovers, because that’ll give the other team life, and that leads to transition and that leads to difficult things to recover from.

On Alex Condon's big free-throws at the end of regulation

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Excuse my language, but he has big nuts, man. He ain’t scared out there.

You can go back to the Kentucky game, as disappointing as that was. But at the end, we had an opportunity to try to execute something with him getting fouled on a three-shot foul. Make, make, misses it perfectly.

If we had a little more time on the clock, Will gets it and we might be able to put it in. And then the Mississippi State game, makes four down the stretch. Tonight makes a couple big ones. But to be honest, that’s what good players do.

That’s what good players do. They step up when they’re needed and when there’s an opportunity to get coached or get advice, you have the opportunity to go up and make two free throws. And the great thing about Condo is he likes those moments.

He’s not running from it. He’s not running from the ball. He wants to be up there and that’s something that you can’t teach him.

Regarding the victory on the glass with 23 rebounds

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

I thought Will gave us a lift on the glass. And then obviously Tyrese and Micah were relentless. They had 12 combined (offensive rebounds) amongst themselves. We had one team rebound out of 16.

Again, this is how our team has built a little bit. So, we at times have some struggles scoring because of the size, but at the same time, the extra possessions it gives us and the hope is on the defensive end that size will help. It didn’t help as much today, but Tyrese and Micah were hard to keep off the glass.

I think Micah, especially after today, analytically might be the top offensive rebounder in the country for offensive rebound rate. And he’s obviously been really good that way. So those two specifically and Will giving us that lift I would say are reasons why today we were so good on glass.

What the third-straight win means to the team

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Very important, you know, for two reasons. Number one, it makes my weekend a lot better. So, I’m gonna go home and watch some games and not hate myself all night. I can go enjoy it and just think about ways I can improve and do a better job for our club. And the reality is, the guys feel it.

Like, we’re definitely playing better. We’re playing better. The wins are stacking. And listen, we got a tough stretch coming up. We go to Rupp, we go to College Station. I think we have Auburn coming in after a bye after that. So it ain’t getting any easier. And this was a game we were supposed to win. Not that that means that you’re definitely going to win as proven by their comeback.

But when you stack games like this, you put yourself in position to accomplish your goals. So it was a big win for us against a program and a ballclub that we have a lot of respect for. Mike did a really good job keeping them poised and obviously kind of fueling that comeback, but I was proud of the way our guys got it done.

Next up

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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