Wednesday’s SEC matchup between the Texas A&M men’s basketball team and Florida was billed to be the reuniting of Buzz Williams and his former Virginia Tech player, preseason All-SEC transfer post Kerry Blackshear Jr.
Thanks to a 44.4% Gator clip from behind the arc, Blackshear’s services weren’t necessary in the 78-61 Florida win at Reed Arena.
The Gators (15-9, 7-4) shot 12 of 27 from behind the 3-point line, supporting Blackshear’s meager eight points on the night. As the Gators’ leading scorer heading into Wednesday’s contest, the output was below his 13.8 point per game average.
Shortly after Williams departure from Virginia Tech, Blackshear announced he would utilize a graduate transfer to play his final year elsewhere. While Williams said Blackshear following him to A&M was never a possibility, Florida head coach Mike White said the Aggies were always a threat in their pursuit of the 6-foot-10 post.
“It seemed like every other day the rumor out there was that he could come here or go back to Virginia Tech or go to Kentucky or go to Tennessee. It seemed like there was a bunch of good programs. He had some really good options and I don’t know where we would be with out him.”
Blackshear told his coach he wasn’t at all focused on playing his former coach Wednesday, White said.
“We need a W,” Blackshear said to White. “I’m more concerned about how we’re playing and how I can help this team win.”
Williams said it was a first time experience to play a transferred player in his 13-year career.
After Blackshear found himself in foul trouble early, it was Florida’s perimeter that picked up the slack.
The tandem of sophomore guards Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke posted 20-plus point efforts by combining to hit 8 of 15 shots from distance. Nembhard paced the game with 24 points. Before Wednesday’s game, the Gators averaged 20.7 3-point field goal attempts per game, ranking 213th in the country.
The first half was a stalemate, with both teams shooting near 50 percent from the field throughout the period. The Gators took a three-point, 37-34 lead into the break.
What had been a steady offensive effort by the Aggies through the first 20 minutes hit turbulence to start the second half, with A&M (11-12, 5-6) making one of their first eight field goal attempts. Through that time frame, the Gators posted a 14-4 run, which included eight points in the paint.
For a defense that is built to force shots from the outside, Williams said he was unhappy with the amount of points Florida scored off dribble penetration.
“If it becomes ‘moneyball’ and they’re either shooting 3s or layups, that means on the path to the rim, something broke down,” Williams said. “We weren’t in a position to help keep the ball out of the paint and make them make another pass to the perimeter. That did happen too often tonight.”
When Florida did miss shots from long range, A&M was not able to pull in defensive rebounds, allowing the Gators 14 second-chance opportunities. In those, they netted 18 points.
Freshman post Emanuel Miller led the way offensively for the Aggies, finishing with one shy of his season high with 19 points. With 11 points, junior forward Savion Flagg recorded his first double-digit output since the Aggies win over Missouri on Jan. 21.
Before the season began Florida was picked to finish second in the SEC. Though the Gators took a few unexpected losses through the conference slate, Williams said he saw first-hand why they earned such high accolades.
“Their team is so good,” Williams said. “All of them, including [Blackshear]. They put stress on you in every possible way, not just on the perimeter.”