JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Canyon Barry was admittedly a little nervous for his Florida debut.
It showed at the free-throw line.
The youngest son of Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry missed three of his first four from the stripe, eliciting some choice words for himself as he headed to the bench. He eventually settled down and ended up with a solid first game with the Gators.
Barry, a graduate transfer from College of Charleston, had 13 points and six rebounds off the bench, and Florida opened the season with an 80-59 victory against Florida Gulf Coast on Friday night.
“Was not happy with the free throws early,” said Barry, who shoots free throws underhand. “It happens. I think a little bit of nerves, first game as a Gator, and I kind of rushed them. But I’m not worried about it. I have all the confidence in the world in my free throws.”
The Gators are equally confident in their pressing defense, which paid dividends in the second half. Florida used a 15-0 run midway through the second half to erase a five-point deficit and take the lead for good. It was a solid start to coach Mike White’s second season, which is expected to include a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Devin Robinson led the Gators with 14 points. John Egbunu added 13 points and eight boards. Kasey Hill finished with 11 points, four assists and no turnovers. And Kevarrius Hayes chipped in nine points, five rebounds and five blocks.
Brandon Goodwin led Florida Gulf Coast with 14 points. The Eagles kept it close until hitting just two baskets during a 14-minute stretch in the second half. They made 8 of 20 shots from 3-point range, but committed 19 turnovers. It didn’t help that FGCU played without its leading returning scorer, forward Marc-Eddy Norelia. The fifth-year senior missed the game with a broken left (shooting) hand.
“When you turn it over 19 times and get nine shots blocks, that might be a pretty good barometer that we need to take better shots and take care of the ball,” FGCU coach Joe Dooley said.
Florida Gulf Coast: The Eagles are expected to win the Atlantic Sun Conference. And even without Norelia, they look capable of making a third trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last five years.
Florida: With added depth and more experience, the Gators might be able to meet the high expectations attached to White’s second season in Gainesville.
Even with Barry’s three early misses, the Gators hit 20 of 26 from the free-throw line. It was arguably the best news for the Gators, who ranked 323rd (out of 346 teams) in the NCAA from the stripe last season.
“Every night we’ll take it,” White said. “I was proud, of course, by the way we stepped up at the foul line. And Canyon’s a guy that will shoot it better than that for sure.”
This was the first of 11 consecutive games outside Gainesville for Florida. With a $64.5 million renovation to the O’Connell Center nearing completion, the Gators play a challenging nonconference schedule that includes neutral-site matchups against Seton Hall, Duke, Florida State and maybe Gonzaga. It could benefit the Gators when it comes time for the NCAA Tournament.
Asked whether opening with two games in Jacksonville felt like an NCAA Tournament setup, White deadpanned “I wouldn’t know.” He has yet to make the NCAA field during his coaching tenure.
Florida Gulf Coast hosts UT Arlington on Wednesday, the longest break between games for the Eagles this month.
Florida remains in Jacksonville for the next two days before facing Mercer on Sunday night.
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