GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida basketball team found its formula for success through the early part of the season as roles crystallized.
Guard KeVaughn Allen is the tone-setter. He can heat up instantly, and when he does the rest of the team feeds of it.
Forward Devin Robinson is the steady secondary weapon, reliable and capable of delivering timely and clutch baskets. Point guard Kasey Hill can be a momentum swinger when he’s on, forcing turnovers on defense, getting the Gators into easy transition baskets and simply making the offense run. Center John Egbunu, when at full strength, is of course the physical inside presence and crowd-pleasing dunker.
And Canyon Barry is the X-factor as the Gators’ sixth man.
When Barry is in a rhythm, hitting shots, getting to the free-throw line, grabbing rebounds and doing a little bit of everything, the Gators’ offense reaches another dimension.
After a bit of a slump, Barry was locked in Tuesday night in No. 24 Florida’s 70-63 win over Ole Miss inside Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center.
Barry matched a season high with 20 points, found his shooting stroke and took over during key stretches.
“If he doesn’t come off the bench and have the game that he has, we’d be sitting here in the other column,” coach Mike White said afterward. “He was really good. That’s what he’s capable of. Again, just like any of us, he didn’t play a perfect game, but he was good. He was probably the MVP for us tonight.”
Barry, a graduate transfer from College of Charleston, was coming off his second-worst performance of the season — a 2-point game against Arkansas in which he missed all 3 of his 3-point shots and attempted only 4 shots total in 12 minutes of action.
More to the point, he had been held to 6 points or fewer in three of the previous five games, and in his past eight games was shooting 31.8 percent overall (21-of-66) and 20.8 percent from 3 (5-of-24).
He looked like a different player Tuesday night while knocking down 8-of-14 shots and 3-of-6 3-pointers, with most of those buckets coming at pivotal times.
“It’s nice to just take a deep breath, relax, get back to playing the way I know I can play and continue to hopefully get better moving forward,” Barry said.
Barry started hot against the Rebels and seemed to feed off his own momentum, just as the Gators were doing collectively.
With the game tied 8-8, he scored Florida’s next 9 points, contributing a free throw, a jumper and a 3-pointer in the span of three possessions before soon dropping in another 3 to make it 17-12 as the teams jostled for an early advantage.
His work in the second half was even more important, though.
Florida went nearly 5 minutes without a field goal, seeing a 19-point lead shrink to 9, when Barry grabbed a rebound and banked in a layup to end the drought. And he hit two more jumpers over the next few minutes as the Gators regained momentum.
— Ryan Young (@RyanYoungSEC) January 4, 2017
“Canyon, we’ve considered him a starter from Day 1. I was really happy to see him have success for our team and really happy to see it for him as well. He’s worked hard, had a great attitude,” White said.
Barry made the adjustment from being the focal point at College of Charleston, where he averaged 19.7 points per game last season, to embracing the sixth-man role with Florida.
He got off to a strong start before that shooting funk. Overall he’s averaging 11.6 points per game (third on the team) and 21.3 minutes.
Florida has faith in Barry
The Gators will hope Tuesday night was an indication that Barry found his form again.
“My teammates just have a ton of confidence. If I miss one, they say, ‘Let it go, shoot the next one.’ But I’ve been putting a lot of shots up in the gym, going back to the basics and hopefully I continue to shoot it well,” Barry said.
“At this point mechanically, you’ve shot so many shots, for me it was just getting back to trusting it. I think I was kind of overanalyzing and overthinking. I mean, I know I have good form and I’m a good shooter, so just getting in the gym and repetitions and just trusting my shot.”
White wants the Gators to hang their hat on being among the nation’s best defensive team. But the Gators’ offensive potential is there too.
They have the formula in place when all of those players are delivering in their respective ways, with Allen pacing the scoring, Robinson knocking in big shots in the flow of the offense, Hill making plays for he and his teammates, Barry providing that extra punch off the bench and the rest of the role players chipping in accordingly.
“It’s all about putting 40 minutes together. You guys hear me beating it like a dead horse,” White said. “One night, can we sustain that energy and that awareness, communication level, intensity, all those things defensively and put 40 really, really solid minutes without a lull together? And then on that same night can KeVaughn get in a rhythm and Devin be in the rhythm that he’s been in the last 6 or 8 games, 4 or 5 games, and Canyon coming in and he gets into a rhythm? That’s what we’re searching for. … That’s what we could be potentially.”
Next for Florida: Saturday vs. Tennessee (8-6), in a 5:15 p.m. ET tipoff at Exatech Arena. TV: ESPN2.