GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The last time the Gators played at the O’Connell Center – 19 days ago in one of the most anticipated nonconference home games in school history – they blitzed Kansas with a 21-0 run in the first half that nearly blew the roof off the place.
The atmosphere was a bit more subdued on Sunday afternoon against Savannah State.
Still, the Gators answered the bell in a 76-34 rout of the Tigers.
Once again, they took control with a big run early in the game. They followed that up with another dominant stretch that erased any doubts about whether they would win or not. The No. 13-ranked Gators led 34-11 at halftime thanks to scoring spurts of 12 and 14 consecutive points before halftime. Florida turned a 2-2 tie into a 14-2 lead and a 16-7 advantage into a 30-7 blowout.
This one really was over by halftime. Savannah State had more turnovers (13) than points (11) at the break.
“I think anytime you hold a team to 34 points – it doesn’t happen by not giving good effort,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said about his team’s performance coming off an eight-day break.
“I feel like we did a great job coming out and playing to our standard,” senior Casey Prather said. “We came back pretty strong [from the break].”
The Gators ended 2013 the way they wanted with a convincing victory over an overmatched Savannah State team. Florida will head into 2014 with a 10-2 record and four-game win streak when it hosts Richmond on Jan. 4 in the final nonconference game of the regular season.
The Gators open SEC play on Jan. 8 against South Carolina.
On Sunday before an announced crowd of 10,508, the loudest moments were reserved for senior center Patric Young.
Young woke up Sunday 12 points shy of becoming the 50th player in school history to reach 1,000 career points. Young averages 10 points a game, so to reach the milestone Sunday he needed one of his better scoring outputs of the season.
Young scored a game-high 15 points – he made seven of 10 shots – and grabbed six rebounds to join the 1,000-point club.
He had a chance to set the mark at the most unlikely place – the free-throw line. Young is a 55-percent career free-throw shooter.
Young was fouled with 9:44 left in the game and 998 career points. He made the first free throw.
As the crowd sensed the moment and began to cheer, a smile broke out on Young’s face prior to clanking the second shot off the rim, leaving him a point short.
“The fans kept reminding me, ‘four more Pat. Two more, one more,’ ’’ he said. “I have just been very fortunate to be on winning teams and just to be here under Coach Donovan, one of the guys who is going to help develop his players. I can praise him for that. I couldn't walk and chew gum when I first got here.
“I can do a few more things now. I just want to thank him for believing in me and helping me get better."
Young’s milestone moment came a little more than two minutes later when he followed Prather’s missed shot with an offensive putback. The crowd came to its feet and roared as Young raced back down the court to play defense.
On Florida’s next possession, Young followed Scottie Wilbekin’s missed 3-pointer with another offensive rebound and basket.
With Florida leading 69-26 and 5:37 left in the game, Young went to the bench as fans gave him a standing ovation for his accomplishment and the O’Dome’s large video boards recognized his achievement.
“About the 8-minute mark, I said, 'Pat, I'm going to put you in. I'm going to run some plays at you,’ ’’ Donovan said. "He said, 'Well, Coach, I don't want to force anything.' That's just kind of the kid he is. We put him in there to get that done today and I’m just happy it happened.”
Young now has 1,003 career points moving into 49th place in school history on his final basket of the game, passing Brooks Henderson (1,001) on the school’s all-time scoring list. With his senior season not even half over, Young should pass several others on the list the next couple of months, including his former teammate, Erik Murphy, who finished his UF career last season with 1,052 career points.
Over the past four seasons Donovan has constantly pushed Young, a gifted athlete who was raw from a basketball standpoint when he arrived, to improve.
Sunday’s milestone proved how far he has come.
“Patric is as unselfish a player as I’ve been around,’’ Donovan said. “A real team guy since he's been here. I think it will be something that later on in his life, when he looks back on it, he'll realize that when you score 1,000 points, it's always a milestone.
“I was happy for him. I was happy for the way the crowd kind of cheered him on.”