Instant Analysis: Kugel scores 23, Florida wins home opener

by Zack Weiss
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Five transfers. Four freshmen. Six returners. One win down.

Second-year head coach Todd Golden and his revamped Florida Gators men’s basketball team enter his second year at the helm with a whole new look and whole new goals. Tonight, against the Loyola Maryland University Greyhounds, they took that first step toward those goals, securing the 93-73 win.

Inside the Gators’ Instant Analysis takes a quick look at how the game unfolded.

IT WAS OVER WHEN: the clock hit triple zeros. Honestly, it’s tough to pinpoint an exact moment at which Loyola MD’s pulse went flat. Because, other than a stretch toward the end of the first half when the Greyhounds cut it to seven, Florida was steadily in control all the way through — particularly in the second half. Getting off to better starts will be big for this team going forward and something to look for on the road against Virginia Friday. But, not getting off to a lightning-fast start isn’t necessarily something to worry about — at least not right now — considering it was these guys’ first real game in quite some time.

THEY STOLE THE SHOW: Freshman sensation Riley Kugel opened his sophomore season about as well as he and Gator Nation could’ve hoped for. He started off slow — on both ends of the floor, really — finishing the first half with just 9 points on 3-7 shooting and 0-3 from deep. But once this Florida team exited the locker room after half, he showed all the way up. I’d like to see more aggressiveness from him offensively going forward, and more energy on the other side of the floor, but sheer skill was and still is never a doubt. He’s this team’s most important player, and as this one went on, he looked more and more like the part — finishing with 23 points on an efficient 10-15 from the floor to go along with 3 rebounds and 4 assists.

THESE STATS DON’T LIE: The Gators got 43 of their 93 (46.2%) points out of transfers tonight. We knew this team would look nearly brand new going in, but just how impactful the fresh faces would be was to be seen. Now, it’s abundantly clear that Golden & co. will be banking on their productivity for this team to perform at its best. Marshall transfer Micah Handlogten finished with 16 points and 6 rebounds on 7-8 from the floor. Seton Hall transfer Tyrese Samuel contributed 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists on 5-9 shooting. Iona transfer Walter Clayton Jr. had 9 points on 4-9 shooting with 8 boards and 5 assists.

THIS MATCHUP PROVED KEY: Gators vs. Comradery

As just mentioned, this iteration of the Gators is nearly brand-new. With only three returners in the rotation (Kugel, Richard, Aberdeen), Golden has a tall task in front of him. Bringing so many faces, talents, and personalities from all over the country together as a single unit can be tough. Comradery isn’t particularly easy to come by, especially in college where everyone’s trying to make it to the next level. But they all looked the part tonight. The team looked together tonight. The question is how they will look when adversity hits — because it will. That’s to be seen, though, and not at the forefront right now.

WHAT A PLAY: With just under three minutes remaining in the first half, Micah Handlogten blocked a shot off the backboard at the rim, Walter Clayton Jr. picked up the loose ball, ran the fastbreak, and lobbed it up perfectly to a cutting Riley Kugel — who threw it down with two hands to put Florida up 36-21. This play perfectly encapsulates what this team can look like at its best — blocking shots, pushing the pace, and getting their star involved. This was Kugel’s first big play of the night and ignited what would go on to be a stellar box-score performance.

UP NEXT: Florida (1-0, 0-0) will next take the court Friday against Virginia in Charlotte, NC, as part of the Hall of Fame Series. The Gators will be back in Gainesville on Tuesday, Nov. 14, to take on Florida A&M.

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