Tuesday night’s game against the Missouri Tigers did not end the way Billy Donovan, head coach of the No. 4/5 Florida Gators, had planned as he called a timeout and tried to rally his team.
Down one with 19.1 seconds remaining, Donovan called for junior center Patric Young to set a screen for junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who would roll off and drive to the hoop and either finish at the rim or kick it back out to an open man. However, Wilbekin’s lane was blocked and he instead passed it to senior Kenny Boynton, who took a split-second to consider driving to the hoop but saw two defenders in front of him and instead took an off-balance three-pointer that clanged the back of the rim.
Suffice to say, Donovan was not pleased with how the play transpired.
“No. I did not want that at all. We would have liked to have had some action driven to the basket. When you’re down by one, you want to at least try to create some penetration. I talked about that during the timeout. I got to see the film. I don’t know what kind of look it was for him,” he said after the game.
“I think, in those situations, teams are going to want to generally try not to foul or at least try to keep their hands back [as] we were in the double bonus. We needed to have some action toward the basket. I thought Scottie probably gave it up a little too early because he had a driving lane there as the guy guarding the screen kind of went back to his man. As that was happening, he kind of threw the ball across the floor. We wanted to keep the floor spaced. We had it spaced and we wanted to put [the ball] on the floor and create some action to the basket.”
But the Gators – as has been their trademark for the last five years that Boynton and/or Erving Walker have been running the backcourt – again settled for a long three when a two-pointer would have sufficed.
“I thought it was a good look. I did a shimmy shake and the guy backed up a little. I had a clean look; it just didn’t go down,” Boynton said. “The play was basically Scottie comes off the screen, he flips it and whoever gets it goes [to the hoop]. … I tried to get a shot up at the basket and they came down with it.”
This is not new territory for Florida. As The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway pointed out early Wednesday morning, “the Achilles heel of Donovan’s coaching tenure in 17 seasons showed up again in UF’s 63-60 loss at Missouri – his inability to get the Gators to close out tight basketball games.”
Brockway broke down Donovan’s record in games decided by five points or less to 67-76 in his tenure at UF. His 46.9 percent winning efficiency in those contests is an obvious outlier when compared to other active national championship-winning coaches like Kansas’ Bill Self (.571), Kentucky’s John Calipari (.570), North Carolina’s Roy Williams (.555), Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (.554), Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (.547) and Louisville’s Rick Pitino (.503.) (Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is an outlier at the other end of the chart at .628.)
Yet while end-of-game situations are incredibly important and Florida has failed to make the most of them in recent years, Donovan pointed out Tuesday that much more goes into losing a game and blowing a 13-point lead held midway through the second half.
“It’s not one play that is going to make or break a game. That just happened to be one play with 19 seconds [left] that we could have handled better. There’s probably another 50 or 60 we could’ve handled better in the game on both ends of the floor,” he said.
“There were a lot of things that hurt us in the game. I thought we defended really, really well for about 30 minutes, did a really good job. And then I thought the last 10 minutes, our pick-and-roll coverage on [Phil] Pressey was not great – and it was really, really good for about 30 minutes. With our lack of depth in the front court, we got to be able to fight through fatigue a little bit better and push through that. We don’t have the same rotation up front and obviously that wears on you when you got to guard a guy like that all the time.
“The last 10 minutes, I thought our free throw shooting – I think it was three-straight front-ends of one-and-ones we missed. … I don’t think we got great productivity from our frontcourt really in the game. Patric [Young] was in foul trouble and never really got in the flow of the game. We did not really have a presence at the basket at all.”
The Gators got outrebounded by 12 going up against a significantly larger frontcourt, a statistic that may not be ideal but is certainly understandable. However, Young also only brought in three total rebounds despite playing most of the game and Florida did not score a single second-chance point in the contest.
UF was also incredibly sloppy with the ball.
“For us, 10 assists and 14 turnovers is not who we are. We’ve been much, much better than that in terms of our assist-to-turnover ratio and the way we’ve moved and pass the basketball,” Donovan said.
The Gators entered Tuesday’s contest eighth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.42 but sliced that ratio in half against the Tigers (0.71). In fact, Florida registered six fewer assists and committed three more turnovers than it does on average.
Another concern? The Gators shot 33 of their 54 total field goal attempts from three-point land and at one point missed nine in a row. Though Florida is efficient from deep, no team should take 61.1 percent of its scoring opportunities from that range.
“We did settle in the first half. Coach told us we weren’t playing the right way,” Boynton said. “We tried to get it down more in the second half, but we still ended up taking threes.”
Missouri outscored Florida 27-11 down the stretch and the Gators did not have an answer. UF could neither stop UM when it counted nor score when it needed to. Save a late three-pointer by Wilbekin that put Florida up a single point in the final minute, things may have looked even worse for the visitors.
“That’s a concern. We tried switching defenses. They scored on both of them. They just converted at the end of the game. They converted more than we did,” Boynton said.
Teams have been beating up on the Gators at the ends of close games for quite some time now – including in the Elite Eight of the last two NCAA Tournaments.
Though Florida looks like a better all-around team now than it did in 2010-11 or 2011-12, losses that should have served as learning experiences in the past are instead compounding as a black eye on the resume of one of the greatest basketball coaches in the history of the Southeastern Conference.
Photo Credit: John Bazemore/Associated Press