Gators Thwart East Tenn. State’s Upset Bid With Strong Second Half, Advance To Round Of 32

By  //  March 17, 2017

Gators to face VIRGINIA CAVALIERS, 8:40 P.M. Sat.

ABOVE VIDEO: Highlights of the Florida Gators 80-65 win over the East Tennessee State Buccaneers on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

ORLANDO, FLORIDA – The Florida Gators started slow on Thursday, real slow but thanks to a 9-0 run to start the second half, the Gators defeated East Tennessee State, 80-65 and advanced to face the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday at 8:40 p.m. in the round of 32 in the 2017 NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Thanks in part to losing three of their final four games entering the NCAA Tournament, many national pundits predicted doom and gloom for the Florida Gators in the Sunshine State.

The Gators entered the Tourney following back to back losses to Vanderbilt and during the games first 20 minutes on Thursday afternoon vs ETSU, played as if they may very well prove the experts right.

Florida allowed the Buccaneers to hit nearly 50 percent of their shots, including 56 percent inside the the three-point line.

Offensively, the Gators were just 1-10 from beyond the arc and struggled to establish anything other than a few showtime dunks on the offensive end.

However in the second half,  the Gators woke up on both ends of the court.

UF held ETSU to just 11 of 33 from the floor (33 percent) during the games final 20minutes and if you break it down a little further, 6-for-28 considering five of those 11 buckets came in the final 180 seconds, as the teams traded baskets to close out the contest.

ABOVE VIDEO: Inside the Gators locker room following their 80-65 win. Space Coast Daily’s Alan Zlotorzynski speaks with SEC Sixth Man Player of the Year Canyon Barry and Chris Chiozza.

Offensively the Gators were led by  Devin Robinson, who tied his career-high with 24 points.

Averaging just nine points in the Gators final four games of the year, Robinson hit 10 of his 17 shots and also pulled down seven rebounds.

This was Robinson’s highest output since he scored 24-points back on January 25 during a win over LSU .

Gators guard Kasey Hill showed why he was a Second Team ALL-SEC selection during the contest.

Hill, a senior , finished with 14-points, reaching double figures for the fourth consecutive game. He played well on both ends of the floor, adding six rebounds and five assists for UF.

Sophomore Kevarrius Hayes, who entered the mix for the Gators back in mid February when center John Egbunu was lost for the year with a torn ACL , finished with a very efficient seven points and seven rebounds and a record breaking six steals.

ABOVE VIDEO: UF and ETSU put on a dunk show during the game, here are some of those highlights. (NCAA video).

The six thefts broke the school record for steals in an NCAA Tournament game, a record previously held by former guard Eddie Shannon, who had five steals twice in Tourney action, the last time on March 13, 1999 in a second-round win over Weber State at Seattle.

Gators head coach Mike White flexed his bench’s muscle, particularly in the second half.

Junior guard Chris Chiozza entered the contest and promptly doubled his average per game scoring output during the season by adding 14 critical points.

More importantly, Chiozza energized a team that needed a jolt following a sluggish first half. His three pointer with 10:31 to play in the game gave the Gators a double digit lead.

The Gators are now 40-15 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. They also improved to 10-1 when staying home in Florida playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Dating back to 2011 (’12, ’13, ’14 & ’17), the Gators have now won five straight first round games and have not been bounced in the first round since 2010 when Brigham Young defeated Florida 99-92 in Oklahoma City.

That was Florida’s first appearance back in March Madness since having won back to back titles in 2006 and 2007.

Florida is 8-4 all-time in the Round of 32 and will face the Virginia Cavaliers from the ACC in second round action tomorrow from the Amway Center in Orlando.

Tip time is scheduled for 8:40 p.m.

SPACE COAST DAILY SPORTS TALK: Alan Zlotorzynski Reports Live From NCAA TourneyRelated Story:
SPACE COAST DAILY SPORTS TALK: Alan Zlotorzynski Reports Live From NCAA Tourney

ABOVE VIDEO: Highlights of the Cavaliers 76-71 win over UNC Wilmington on Thursday. (NCAA video)

The Cavaliers survived and advanced with a 76-71 win over UNC Wilmington in Thursday’s first game in Orlando.

In that contest Virginia’s London Perrantes scored 24 points and Marial Shayok added a career-high 23-points off the bench.

The Cavs overcame a 15 point deficit to avoid losing to the 13th-seeded Seahawks. Virginia advanced past the first round for the fourth consecutive year and won as a No. 5 seed for the first time in four tries.