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Walter Clayton Jr. shines as Florida beats East Carolina

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Walter Clayton Jr. scored a game-high 22 points Thursday night and Tyrese Samuel added a key dunk down the stretch as Florida survived East Carolina’s upset bid 70-65 at the Florida Tip-Off Classic in Lakeland, Fla.

Samuel rebounded Clayton’s missed 3-pointer and dunked with 20.5 seconds left for a 69-65 lead. After the Pirates’ Cam Hayes missed a 3-pointer, Alex Condon rebounded, drew a foul and made one of two free throws with 11 seconds remaining to cap the scoring.

Samuel and Zyon Pullin added 11 for the Gators (7-3), while Will Richard contributed 10 points. Condon grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds as Florida dominated the glass to the tune of 51-32, hauling in 21 offensive boards that led to 16 points.

R.J. Felton and Ezra Ausar each scored 14 points to pace East Carolina (6-5), while Brandon Johnson chipped in a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double. Bobby Pettiford added 11 points before being carried off the floor late in the game with an ankle injury.

The Gators nearly cost themselves the game with poor foul shooting. They were only 15 of 28 at the line, including 12 of 22 in the second half.

The main storyline in the first half was the play of Clayton, who was playing minutes away from the high school (Bartow) where he won two state titles.

Beginning with a layup at the 18:21 mark, Clayton ripped off 10 straight points in a 2:09 span. That included a 3-pointer and an old-fashioned three-point play off a drive to the goal that helped Florida establish a 14-8 lead at the first TV timeout.

Clayton heated up again later in the half after East Carolina drew within 25-21 with 6:35 left on Jaden Walker’s long 3-pointer. Clayton followed with back-to-back 3-pointers off Pullin feeds for a 31-21 Gators lead – their biggest of the night.

Clayton finished a 20-point half with a layup with 4:50 remaining and Florida took a 37-30 cushion to the break.

–Field Level Media

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