GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida may have found a turning point in its up-and-down season.
Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Keyontae Johnson scored 21 points apiece and the Gators overwhelmed Long Beach State 102-63 on Saturday in their final tuneup before Southeastern Conference play.
Noah Locke chipped in 16 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double. Freshman Omar Payne, starting in place of Scottie Lewis (concussion), also nearly accomplished the feat. He finished with 11 points and nine boards.
“I think this game will really boost our confidence,” Payne said. "We can see how good we are when we move the ball."
The Gators (8-4) scored the first 14 points, led by as many as 30 in the opening half and went ahead by 44 with 8 minutes remaining. They coasted from there, filling up the stat sheet down the stretch.
Andrew Nembhard finished with a career-high 13 assists and just one turnover. Freshmen Ques Glover (11 points) and Tre Mann (10) also reached double figures.
“Moving the ball worked well for us, getting everybody involved,” Locke said. “A lot of people were in double digits scoring, everybody getting touches. Once somebody sees somebody else made a shot, it gives everybody else confidence to make shots. I felt like it was good in that regard.”
The Gators surely needed a confidence boost following losses to Butler and Utah State in recent weeks. Although coach Mike White has seen growth with his young team that features five freshmen and four sophomores, he's been waiting for an offensive breakthrough.
Florida topped 100 points for the first time in more than two years. It was a good sign for a team that opened the season ranked No. 6, lost a couple games early and then completely revamped its offense.
“Sometimes the gaining of confidence can be two steps forward, one step back, especially as you go into league play,” White said. "We definitely got better today. Hopefully a couple of these young guys can grow from this moving forward."
White tweaked his scheme following early season losses to Florida State and UConn. He used a couple of recent extended breaks — one for final exams, another for Christmas — to hone the overhaul.
It's hard to tell how much those were a factor against Long Beach State, which has now lost 10 games by double digits.
The Beach (4-11) lost for the seventh time in eight games and seemed overmatched from the opening tip, no surprise given it was a 9 a.m. start on their body clocks. Florida shot 53 percent from the field, made 12 of 30 shots from 3-point range and notched season highs in treys and assists (19).
Chance Hunter led the Beach with 20 points on 8-of-18 shooting. Colin Slater and Michael Carter III added 10 each.
Long Beach State: The Beach was picked to finish sixth in the Big West and might have better luck in conference play. But it's been mostly overmatched against bigger programs like Stanford, Arizona, Wake Forest and now Florida.
Florida: The Gators are still trying to figure out their revamped offense and will get a much better feel for how they stack up when the SEC schedule begins next week.
Long Beach State: Hosts Cal State Los Angeles next Saturday, the team's final tuneup before beginning play in the Big West.
Florida: Opens SEC play next Saturday at home against Alabama.
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