Robinson tied his career-high with 24 points, Kasey Hill added 14 and No. 4 seed Florida used a second-half surge to beat 13th-seeded East Tennessee State 80-65 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
Robinson, an NBA prospect who had been relatively quiet of late, scored his most points in nearly two months. He made 10 of 17 shots and chipped in seven rebounds. The speedy Hill reached double figures for the fourth consecutive game. He also added six rebounds and five assists for his most complete game in a month.
Kevarrius Hayes, filling in for injured center John Egbunu, finished with seven points, seven rebounds and six steals. He broke the school record for steals in an NCAA Tournament game.
Florida (25-8) needed all those contributions, especially since coach Mike White got so little from leading scorer KeVaughn Allen and Southeastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year Canyon Barry. Allen and Barry scored seven points apiece and were 2 of 15 combined.
“That’s kind of who we are,” White said. “And it takes a special group to be able to be successful while that happens. KeVaughn’s not hanging his head right now. KeVaughn is happy that we won. Devin would be the same way if KeVaughn was sitting here right now.”
Allen and Barry will have a chance to bounce back Saturday when the Gators play fifth-seeded Virginia in the second round of the East Region.
Florida blew open a close game with a barrage of 3-pointers in the second half. Robinson hit consecutive 3s, and then Allen followed with a wide-open look from the top of the arc. Chris Chiozza added two more a few minutes later, and the rout was on.
It was a stark contrast from the first half in which the Gators couldn’t find their range. They missed their first eight 3-point attempts and finished 1 of 10 from behind the arc in the opening 20 minutes.
“We lost control of the game,” ETSU’s Hanner Mosquera-Perea said. “They came out (and) played harder than we did. We didn’t play our A-game in the second half so they came out and punched us in the mouth. We started making mistakes and we just kept doing that.”
ETSU: The Buccaneers had won nine of their last 10 and thought this would be their year to get their first NCAA Tournament win since 1992. Still, Forbes has the program on the right track even though it includes adding disgruntled transfers and guys from the junior college ranks.
Florida: The Gators had played a lot of “small ball” after Egbunu’s season-ending knee injury, with White going with a lot of three- and four-guard lineups. But he went big Thursday by getting freshman Gorjok Gak some minutes. Gak helped the Gators maintain a post presence with Hayes on the bench, finishing with four points and a rebound.
Leading by a point at halftime, White wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance and he let his guys know it.
“He just laid it out for us like, `Hey, if you all want to go home, lay it down right now. If you all want to advance, these are things you need to do to be successful,'” Robinson said. “We listened to him, took that in, and came out with a big second half.”
ETSU’s standout T.J. Cromer scored a team-high 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting, but the Gators were more pleased with how they defended Desonta Bradford. The guard finished with just four points on 2-of-7 shooting and missed all three 3-point attempts.
“Cromer gets all the headlines, deservedly so,” White said. “Cromer is a terrific player. Bradford may be their most valuable player. And KeVaughn started on him and guarded him for a lot of the game.”
Florida plays fifth-seeded Virginia on Saturday, and the Gators surely will have another home-crowd advantage.