The Florida Gators (14-4, 3-1 SEC) escaped a potentially resume-killing loss Thursday night at the Auburn Arena, defeating the Southeastern Conference bottom-dwelling Auburn Tigers (7-11, 0-4 SEC) 45-40 on their brand new home court. Though Florida shot an abysmal 28.3 percent from the field (15-of-43) and 19.2 percent from downtown (5-of-26), two late treys by sophomore guard Kenny Boynton and junior point guard Erving Walker propelled them to victory.
FEWEST POINTS SCORED UNDER DONOVAN
Leading teams that have heavily relied on the three-pointer throughout his entire career, Gators head coach Billy Donovan has seen some poor offensive performances before. Unfortunately for Donovan, his Florida team made history Thursday evening by posting the lowest point total in his coaching career at the university. “I don’t know if I have ever been a part of a game sitting on the sidelines as a player or coach watching us struggle to shoot the ball as badly as we did tonight,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”
“Unbelievable” may not be the best word to describe UF’s shooting, especially considering they are currently 82nd in the nation in field goal percentage (45.9%) this season. Granted 28.3 percent is laughingly poor, but Florida posted a similar number in the first half of their game against then-No. 5 Kansas State on Dec. 18 and went through a seven-game stretch over a three-week period without once reaching 70 points.
PENETRATION CAN BE A GOOD THING
Teams this year have had great success at defeating the Tigers by pounding the ball down low and out-maneuvering them in the post. The Gators, which likely set their game plan to follow a similar formula, were unable to follow suit because Auburn was collapsing inside and forcing Florida to take wide-open outside shots. With UF shooting only 34.1 percent from downtown as a team this season, the game plan worked for AU because the Gators simply could not knock anything down.
Walker, who blamed Auburn’s “sagging in the lane” as the reason “it was tough to get the ball inside and penetrate,” has had trouble doing so his entire career due to his diminutive stature. Where Florida failed on Thursday and has made a mistake this season is not forcing Boynton – or better yet senior forward Chandler Parsons – to drive the lane and at least get to the line for some free throws.
“We missed some bunnies around the basket, and [Auburn] left our perimeter guys to shoot the ball,” Donovan said. “We just could not make a shot.”
Instead of creating any opportunities inside, UF brought the ball up court, passed it around the perimeter and often times jacked up a three with plenty of time remaining on the shot clock. When the Gators did get the ball inside, redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin, senior F Alex Tyus and freshman C Patric Young were surrounded by defenders who were able to stay on them due to a lack of ball movement.
STAYING CONFIDENT IS IMPORTANT
Donovan has known since the beginning of the season that this year’s squad is simply not an effective and consistent shooting team. That being said, he has made an effort both in practice and while speaking to the media to explain that his No. 1 priority is helping his players remain confident in the face of adversity.
“This was a terrible shooting display by us, but we hung in there,” Walker said after the game. “We are shooters, but we need to shoot with confidence.” His teammate agreed. “I knew for our team all I needed was for one to fall,” Boynton added. “We’ve been in this position many times, and if that shot doesn’t fall, we’re in a scramble, we have to get a stop. So I just wanted to keep us in the game.”
As poor as Florida shot the ball, the confidence of their backcourt starters was paramount in the game’s final two minutes. “Give Walker and Boynton credit at the end of the game,” Donovan said. “They still had enough confidence to step up and shoot the ball and knock down two big shots, but it was a hard game sitting over there watching our team offensively.”
DEFENSE WINS CLOSE GAMES…BUT DID IT WIN THIS ONE?
Pulling out the victory, the Gators hung their hat on their defense as the reason they were able to keep the game close even through an awful offensive output. “Our defense won the game for us tonight,” Boynton said. Donovan added, “The thing that gets lost in the game is the fact that we really defended. I think we talked about that. Our defensive numbers had slipped a little bit, and we knew coming in here it was going to be a grind.”
While Florida did defend well, they immediately gave up a lead (or tie) on the following possession four times in the second half and their performance in that aspect of the game was nothing special considering…
Auburn shot 37.5 percent from the floor on Thursday; they are 314th in the country in field goal percentage at 39.6 percent this season. The Tigers have scored under 60 points nine times already and only average 62.7 points per game. What actually doomed Auburn was something that UF had nothing to do with – their free throw shooting. Normally hitting 65.2 percent of their shots from the charity stripe, the Tigers were only 1-of-8 from the line (12.5 percent) on Thursday.
Special thanks to Kevin Brockway for the quotes used in the above post.