Clayton Jr. leads Florida past East Carolina

Clayton Jr. leads Florida past East Carolina

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13 hours ago Florida Athletics

Photo: Florida Athletics

What Happened Grad-transfer forward Tyrese Samuel’s offensive rebound and putback dunk with 20 seconds left gave Florida the breathing room it needed and allowed the Gators to escape RP Funding Center in Lakeland, Fla., with a 70-65 victory over East Carolina for a third straight victory Thursday night. Junior guard Walter Clayton Jr., the local kid who led Bartow High to consecutive state championships and Monday became a father, led all scorers by pouring in 20 of his 22 points in the first half of his homecoming, but the Gators gave the Pirates plenty of opportunities to steal this neutral-site affair. UF led by 11 late in the first half and by nine early in the second half, but then proceeded to play giveaway for the entire period on the way to 18 turnovers, including 11 in the second half. Compounding matters, the Gators shot just 34.5 percent in the period, while allowing the Pirates to slowly chip away at the lead, twice drawing within two, the last time on a driving layup by Bobby Pettiford Jr. with 1:06 to play. At Florida’s end, Will Richard missed a 3, but the Gators got the ball when the rebound went out on ECU for a shot-clock reset. A late-clock 3-pointer by Clayton was short, but Samuel gathered the board, went up in traffic and dunked the ball for a two-possession lead, 67-63, with 20 seconds left. The Pirates misfired on a 3-pointer that was rebounded by freshman center Alex Condon, who sank one of two free throws for the final five-point margin. Clayton finished 10 of 16 from the floor (after going eight of 13 in the first half) and 3-for-7 from the arc to go with four rebounds, but also five turnovers. Samuel had 11 points and seven rebounds. Reserve point guard Zyon Pullin had 11 points, four rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes off the bench. Florida made just two of its last 10 field-goal tries, finished 12 of 22 from the free-throw line, but dominated East Carolina 51-32 on the glass, including 21-10 on the offensive end. ECU was paced by forward Ezra Ausar 14 points, plus 12 points and 10 rebounds by forward Brandon Johnson.

What it MeansCan’t go 6-0 in December (the stated goal of the UF players) without going 3-0. A second straight neutral-site win, even against a low-ranked opponent, should provide something of a bump to the Gators’ NCAA Evaluation Tool rating, which began the day at No. 43. Of greater significance, the team got another game under its belt (just the third this season) with a full complement of rotational players — and looked pretty good again in doing so.

In the SpotlightIt was quite a last few days for Clayton (maybe not such a great second half), but at least he’ll remember this week not just for the baby, but also with a win in his old stomping grounds. With those two state titles at Bartow, now this win as a Gator, Clayton is unbeaten at RP Funding Center.

Staggering StatisticEast Carolina began the night ranked 293rd in defensive efficiency. Florida, which shot 48.4 percent in the first half, made the Pirates look like a top 25 defensive team after halftime, with some of the turnovers just really uncharacteristic of a good perimeter team.

Up NextTwo straight neutral site games down, one to go, with Florida (7-3) headed to Charlotte, N.C., next week to face Michigan (5-5) in the second Jumpman Classic to play a second game this season at the Spectrum Center. The event brings the four original Jumpman schools together for double-header. The Gators and Wolverines (who host Eastern Michigan on Saturday) will play in Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game, followed by Oklahoma and North Carolina in the second. The Gators were beaten by the Sooners in the inaugural Jumpman last year, with a date against the Tar Heels already on the docket for December 2024.

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