Florida Gators basketball took the court for the first time under new head coach Mike White and made quick work of the Division II Palm Beach Atlantic Sailfish. Florida won Thursday night’s exhibition game 89-42, but the Gators left the Stephen C. O’Connell Center with plenty to work on before it kicks off the 2015-16 regular season against Navy on Nov. 13.
OnlyGators.com is here to break down the good, the bad and the ugly from Thursday’s “frantic” victory. And while there was plenty of good in the exhibition, Florida certainly has its share of ugly to work on.
Redshirt sophomore transfer center John Egbunu certainly looks the part. Though no one on Palm Beach Atlantic could measure up to Egbunu (6-foot-11, 255 pounds), the talented big man did more than dominate simply because of his size. In his first game in a Gators uniform, Egbunu (+20) dunked his way to a team-high of 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting, adding six rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes. He displayed soft hands on offense and looked to be a legitimate rim protector defensively. “He wasn’t as good as he’s been in a lot of practice defensively or on the offensive glass. I thought he took a few plays off, to be honest,” White said. “You see glimpses of what he could be more consistently. He’s a really talented guy who we expect big things from.”
Freshman guard KeVaughn Allen started and should maintain that job. Allen was electric for Florida in the first half and finishing the contest with 12 points, draining 2-of-4 attempts from beyond the arc and adding a team-high five steals. One of the most impressive players in practice, it will be tough to knock Allen (+19) out of the starting five if he trends upward as most expect he will. “There were a couple [threes] I thought that KeVaughn passed up that I wished he would have taken. He’s such an unselfish guy; we want him to be more aggressive offensively,” White said. “KeVaughn is a player. He knows he’s a player. He’s a very confident kid.”
Hey look, sophomore forward Devin Robinson seems to have matured … kinda. Robinson was much more composed Thursday than almost any game during his freshman season. He took quality shots and did not force the ball, hitting 3-of-4 treys on his way to 12 points. He also impressed by keeping his nose to the glass (team-high 10 boards) and remaining stout defensively (three steals, three blocks). Not everything was peachy for Robinson (+29), though, as he also finished with a team-high five turnovers in 21 minutes. “Turnovers were an issue but pleased with the way he’s shooting the ball. He’s flying around defensively. … Really using his length, playing with energy. … He’s been really good on the offensive glass and tonight he was probably as good on the defensive glass as he’s been since we started practice,” White said. “His energy level is where it needs to be. If he continues to play at this high level in terms of playing really hard, he’ll just continue to get better.”
The ball still goes through redshirt senior F Dorian Finney-Smith. The former SEC Sixth Man of the Year – and Florida’s best player last season – did not look like he lost a step. Finney-Smith (+23) put 12 points and eight rebounds on his stat line and appeared to be the linchpin for offense, as expected. It was not a dominant performance by any means for one of the top talents in the SEC, but he had no reason to play to that level in an exhibition game.
Winning where it counts. Florida tallied 12 offensive rebounds on 25 misses and used 18 steals to force 30 turnovers in the 40-minute game. The Gators also hit 11-of-27 threes (.407), succeeding in an area singled out by White before the game. Not many conclusions can actually be drawn against an opponent like Palm Beach Atlantic, but there is plenty for the Gators to build on in the coming week.
Point guards do just OK. Junior Kasey Hill and sophomore Chris Chiozza continued to play well enough for UF with each excelling in different areas. While Chiozza (+31) had the better overall game (nine points on 3-of-4 shooting, seven assists), he also committed four turnovers. Hill (+15) hit 3-of-6 shots and went 3-for-4 from the line with three dimes, but he committed a team-high four fouls and once again showed the up-and-down game that was expected last season.
Redshirt junior G/F DeVon Walker didn’t do much. There was no reason to expect fireworks from Walker’s first game in more than a year, but the fourth-year player did not impress at all on Thursday. He hit just 1-of-5 shots (all from beyond the arc) and turned the ball over three times to go along with five rebounds. Walker (+20) will only get better and more comfortable from here, but to this point at least, he’s got some work to do.
A potentially bad injury. Redshirt senior F Alex Murphy went down in the first half with what appeared to be a serious right foot injury. He was ruled out for the game at halftime, and White said after the contest that Florida would not know more about the injury until Friday at the earliest. Murphy is one of just a handful of guys on the team with legitimate playing experience; his absence would make UF even less experienced than it already is entering a transition season under a new coach.
Not quite free-throw shooting. As bad as the Gators were at the charity stripe in 2014-15, they were rarely 10-for-27 ugly. Florida was simply atrocious from the free throw line on Thursday with non-point guards going 5-for-20 from the line. By comparison, the Sailfish finished the contest 9-of-19. White said before the game that the Gators had to work on their free throw shooting. This performance should result in an entire practice dedicated to it. “I didn’t expect us to struggle that much from the foul line,” White said.
Turnover machines. Sure, forcing 30 turnovers on 19 steals is a great stat for Florida. You know what makes it less great? Committing 23 turnovers yourself against a Division II opponent in a game you win by 47. The Gators will likely attribute this mistake to carelessness and just going through the motions, but it is most certainly concerning as White mentioned this as another area UF had to make drastic improvements in before the game.
“Twenty-three turnovers – that’s scary. We weren’t very happy about that,” White said after the game. “I like to think that some of it had to do with just playing in front of our crowd for the first time. I think our guys were pretty jacked up. They were having fun, and it was a really fast-paced game. Hopefully some of it was first-game jitters, at least first game in front of your home fans. But some of it is decision-making … five or six of our turnovers were not passes that should have been made at all – at all.”