With less than a minute left in the first half, Devin Robinson turned to the Florida-heavy crowd inside the Amway Center, raised his arms in the air and smile before joining his teammates in the huddle during a timeout.
A 10-0 run and a 12-point lead in the NCAA Tournament is enough to get any team happy, but it was just the start of what turned out to be one of Florida’s best runs of the season.
Those 10 unanswered points quickly turned to 21 straight against a fifth-seeded Virginia team that led the nation in scoring defense and were more than enough to advance the No. 4 seed Gators to the Sweet 16 with a 65-39 win on Saturday.
The 26-point victory ties Florida’s largest margin of victory over a major conference team in the NCAA Tournament. The record it tied? Well, that would be its 2012 matchup with the Cavaliers in the opening round of the tournament.
“I’m really proud [of this team]. I guess I’ll get that out of the way,” Florida coach Mike White said. “I mean, this group, we might miss some shots. We might mess up some execution. We might have a lack of communication or an error in following the scouting report from time to time, but this group plays really hard.”
That was evident on the almost eight-minute run that pushed Florida (26-8) over the edge.
During the 7:55 that Florida held Virginia scoreless, the Gators went 7-of-10 from the field and forced the Cavaliers (23-11) to miss all 10 of their shots.
Senior Justin Leon, who played without an undershirt for the first time this season, scored all 14 of his points during that pivotal run -- eight to start it and then six to close it out. Leon, a junior-college transfer from Arkansas, also added 10 rebounds for the first double-double of his Florida career. It was his best shooting performance in nine games.
“I’m known to give my teammates energy,” Leon said. “... I guess today [my role] was just knocking down a couple of shots.”
Robinson, a Virginia native, added 14 points of his own and 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Overall Florida shot 46 percent from the field despite more struggles from its best shooter in KeVaughn Allen (four points on 2 of 10 shooting). Nine Florida players scored on Saturday.
On the other side of the court, the Gators held Virginia to a 29.6 percent shooting clip and just a 1-for-13 mark from three-point range. The Cavaliers’ top scorers -- London Perrantes and Marial Shayok -- managed just 13 total points one game after teaming up to score 47 in their win against UNC-Wilmington on Thursday.
“They earned that right for everybody talking about their defense. They’ve been one of the best defenses all year,” point guard Chris Chiozza said. “But we knew we were a great defensive team, too. … We were able to come out there and show that.”
And now, the Gators will next head to New York City and Madison Square Garden to face eighth-seeded Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. The Badgers advanced after upsetting defending national champion and No. 1 overall seed Villanova 65-62 earlier Saturday.
THIS AND THAT
True freshman center Gorjok Gak, who played a total of 48 minutes and scored 13 points over 11 regular-season games, finished his first two NCAA Tournament with 10 points in 17 minutes. He tallied a career-high 6 points on Saturday.