GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Mike White didn’t want his players getting wrapped up in the “party.”
They obliged, although Devin Robinson and KeVaughn Allen ended up providing more cause for celebration.
Robinson scored 21 points, Allen added 19 and the Gators opened their revamped arena with a resounding, 94-71 victory against Arkansas-Little Rock on Wednesday night.
The Gators (9-3) hit 21 of their first 28 shots in Exactech Arena, including 8 of 13 from 3-point range, and built a 29-point lead that turned the grand opening into an early exit for Florida’s starters and many of the 10,000-plus on hand.
“It was rocking in there,” White said. “It was fun. It was loud. And our guys fed off it from the tip. I thought our guys played with tremendous energy and confidence, and without question this new energy level because of the new arena and playing in front of our fans for the first time all season was a big factor.”
Robinson was 7-of-11 shooting, including 4 of 5 from behind the arc. Allen made 7 of 10 shots, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range, and scored 13 in a row for Florida in the decisive first half.
“That got us going,” Robinson said.
Canyon Barry chipped in 15 points for Florida, which played its first 11 games away from Gainesville. Kevarrius Hayes had 12 points, and Kasey Hill finished with 11 points and 11 assists.
“It just felt like it was everybody’s night,” Allen said.
The Gators finished with season highs in points (94), assists (20) and 3-pointers (16). They shot 59.6 percent from the field and 51.6 percent from 3-point range. It was a welcome sight for White, who was concerned his guys would get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the team’s remodeled arena, its home opener and playing around the holidays.
“This is when upsets happen in college basketball as often as any other time of year because sometimes teams are half checked out,” he said. “We all know that. … Our focus was on not allowing it to be a party. This isn’t a party. Let our fans party. They deserve this. This is incredible. They’ll have fun. But if we’re not locked in … then we’re selling ourselves short.”
The Gators spent $64.5 million to upgrade the decades-old O’Connell Center after last season, remodeling the entire inside bowl with plush seating and updated amenities. Originally scheduled to be overhauled after the 2014-15 season, it was supposed to be the “house that Billy Donovan built.” Instead, it ended up being the “house that Mike White inherited.”
On Wednesday, it was the “place where the Gators barely missed.”
Florida was shooting 75 percent until Chris Chiozza was long on a 3-pointer with 2:04 remaining in the first half. Barry followed with an air-ball 3 that brought Florida back to reality.
Still, the huge lead was too much for Little Rock to overcome, especially on the road.
Lis Shoshi led the Trojans (9-4) with 19 points.
Florida has won two in a row since falling out of the AP Top 25 poll, a sign White’s team might be ready for another shot at being ranked. But the real test will come during Southeastern Conference play.
Florida center John Egbunu, who is averaging 9.0 points and 7.7 rebounds, missed his second consecutive game with a hamstring injury. Hayes started in his place again and played well.
FACES IN THE CROWD
Retired coach and current Florida ambassador Steve Spurrier was among the 10,655 in attendance. So was Billy Donovan, the son of former Gators coach Billy Donovan. Florida graduate Thad Bullard, better known in the pro wrestling world as Titus O’Neil, also was on hand. So were two Florida recruits, point guard Michael Okauru and swingman Yves Pons.
Little Rock follows a three-game road trip with a 10-day break before hosting Louisiana-Monroe on Dec. 31.
Florida begins Southeastern Conference play at Arkansas on Dec. 29.
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