IN THE CROSSHAIRS

Gators Get Past Georgia with Overtime Win

Ken Cross

January 30, 2024 at 8:27 pm.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – College basketball has become a sport where a monumental lead can evaporate almost immediately and the Florida Gators felt this happen in their 102-98 overtime win over Georgia on Saturday.

Florida led by as many as 21 points and had an 81-67 lead with 5:35 remaining in the game.

“I think similar to what happened on Wednesday a little bit, got a big lead, thought we played excellent for the first 30 minutes of the game, about as good as we can play probably, to get up 21,” said Florida head coach Todd Golden.

Georgia’s RJ Melendez led all scorers with 35 points and helped put the Bulldogs back into the game as he went 13-of-19 from the floor with six threes. His scoring was consistent and pushed Florida to the edge.

Georgia guard Blue Cain allowed the Bulldogs down the stretch when he tied the game at 85-85 with 49 seconds remaining.

Center Micah Handlogten led five Gators in double figures with 23 points. He also posted 17 rebounds and made a major difference as the Gators outrebounded the Bulldogs, 48-27, and scored 16 points off the offensive boards.

“A lot of his plays are off of effort and hustle,” analyzed Golden. “He’s still fighting physicality around the rim, and when he plays like that, obviously it just gives us a huge lift. I’m proud of him.”

Florida had a tough time down the stretch in taking care of the basketball as the Gators gave up nine turnovers in the last 10 minutes and 19 for the game and also were only 6-of-20 from the field over that period.

“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,” explained Golden. “Against a team like Georgia that plays undersize, you just got to fight the three-point line a little better.”

Zyon Pullin and Chris Richard had two field goals each in overtime as they gave the Gators a solid advantage to start the additional five minutes.

“We knew what we needed to correct and the biggest thing was just staying together to start overtime,” noted Pullin, who had 20 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. “Overtime started with a fast start.”

Richard and Walter Clayton, Jr., scored 18 each as Clayton added four three-point field goals while Richard added seven rebounds.

Richard continues to step up every evening and consistently take command. He had seven points as the Gators took a 13-5 lead only 4:30 into the game.

“I think a big part of his offensive success is because of the success he’s having on defense and on the glass,” Golden noted. “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.”

Pullin scored on a layup plus a free throw to start the overtime and give Florida an 88-85 lead. From there Georgia played from behind as Richard scored on an offensive rebound to give Florida a 96-89 lead with 55 seconds left in the extra session.

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

Not to be overlooked is that the Gators have won three in a row and pushed above .500 in the SEC for the first time this season at 4-3. The improvement is seen with the solid players who understand how to play together and become even tougher once they have learned how to play off of each other on both ends of the floor.

“When you stack games like this, you put yourself in position to accomplish your goals,” said Golden. “So it was a big win for us against a program and a ball club that we have a lot of respect for.”