University of Florida coach Mike White can be confident of one thing about his team: hitting the road won’t be a big deal.

 

Their quarterfinal ouster from the SEC tournament last week in Nashville, Tenn., aside, the Gators (24-8) have been road warriors this season, playing 22 of their 32 games on the road or at neutral sites — thanks in large part to renovations to the O’Connell Center that forced UF to play its first 11 games away from home.

That’s why a trip to Orlando for Thursday’s opening-round NCAA Tournament game against East Tennessee State (27-7) is likely to be old hat for the Gators, who are the fourth-seeded team in the East Regional.

The game will begin after the conclusion of a 12:40 p.m. tip-off between No. 5 Virginia and No. 12 UNC-Wilmington, and will be in truTV.

“Our guys have withstood a long, grueling season, with only playing a few games at home because of our unique circumstances,” White said in a statement on Sunday. “They’re very deserving of this. We’re really excited to play in front of Gator fans in Orlando but more importantly, we have to get back to playing well.”

Florida played five games in Central Florida in November, three at the Disney World complex and one each in Lakeland and Tampa. The Gators were 4-1 in those games, losing only to Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed in the West region.

During their early-season stretch, UF also beat tournament teams Miami, Seton Hall and Florida Gulf Coast, and lost at FSU by six points. The Seminoles are also in Orlando, as the third seed in the West.

Florida went 15-7 away from home this season but every loss was to a team in the NCAAs: Gonzaga, FSU, Duke, South Carolina and three times to Vanderbilt.

But the Gators need to regain their momentum. Their 72-62 overtime loss to the Commodores last week was their third in four games, after a nine-game winning streak.

The Gators’ shooting touch deserted them completely against the Commodores as they hit on a season-low of .344 of their shots.

UF also will face a defensive challenge from the Buccaneers, the Southern Conference champions. Senior guard T.J. Cromer leads the team with 19.1 points per game, with seven players averaging 6.7 or more points per game.

ETSU leads the Southern Conference in scoring margin (+10.6 points) and field-goal percentage (.491) and is second in scoring (79.9 points per game). The Bucs also aren’t likely to be fazed by the stage, since they’ve split two games against SEC opponents, beating Mississippi State and losing by four points to Tennessee.

Florida is 4-0 against East Tennessee, but it’s all ancient history. The last meeting was in 1980.

“I’m just glad to be back in the tournament,” said senior point guard Kasey Hill, who played for the Gators’ Final Four team in 2014. “It means a lot. Now we have to be really locked in and play our best basketball. Everybody does because we’re going to need everybody to win.”