No. 14/16 Florida Gators basketball (4-1), still short-handed due to injuries and suspensions, beat the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (4-1) on Thursday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL. After the 79-59 victory, Florida head coach Billy Donovan met with the media to offer up some of his thoughts.
NO POINT GUARD? NO PROBLEM (IN THE SECOND HALF).
It took a while for Florida to get going on Thursday, playing without a true floor general, but the Gators rolled in the second half and wound up taking down the Blue Raiders by 20. Unfortunately, the first 20 minutes included some ugly basketball – and plenty of fouls (see “Notes & Quotes”).
“I think we had four assists in the first half. Two assists in the first half?! Yeah, two. It was ridiculous. I think I made that comment there. Then we ended up having eight in the second half,” Donovan said. “We were just stagnant. It was painful to watch just calling it like it was. It was painful. But I thought we flowed much better in the second half and we shot a much better percentage.”
Florida ran its offense through a number of players, but it looked the best when redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith led the charge. Out of the eight players that found the bottom of the net on Thursday, six scored in double digits; the only two that failed to do so were UF’s walk-ons.
“That’s great basketball, everybody eating bread. That’s what I call it. Everybody’s getting points, everybody’s having fun, everybody’s doing well, so I love it,” said sophomore F DeVon Walker, who when pressed what kind of bread the team was eating, confidently added, “honey wheat.”
But ball movement was not the primary reason the Gators were so successful. Florida played top-notch defense throughout the contest and forced 16 turnovers in the game, scoring five points off those miscues.
“With a limited bench and no point guard, playing against a good team, I thought our defense was constant the whole entire game and I thought our offense was really good without a point guard in the second half. And I thought we were very well-balanced,” Donovan said.
“I thought for the most part our defense was good. It was good. As disappointed as I was in the North Florida game, coming out of that game – our opener, our first game – I think I made the comment we were ‘light years away from where we were [last year]’. We’re at least moving in a positive direction defensively.
“I think for 40 minutes, the best defense we’ve played for 40 minutes this year, especially with limited numbers. We didn’t have a lot of subs. I thought we were really committed to that end of the floor. I thought we were engaged. I thought we were disruptive. … Coming out of the North Florida game, I’ve seen some growth by our team over the last couple weeks, which has been encouraging. We need to keep moving in that direction.”
COMING TO LIFE
At times during the first four games of the season, senior center Patric Young looked like a zombie out on the court. That’s not to say he was failing to give a fair amount of effort – he did – but Young looked like a completely different player on Thursday night.
Despite being double-teamed and sent to the charity stripe more than any other member of the Gators, Young came through where he had failed to do so in the first four games. He led Florida with a season-high 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting and hit 6-of-8 attempts from the free throw line, missing his first two tries before nailing six-straight. Young also grabbed a team-high six boards and actually led UF with three assists, too.
“I thought Patric did a great job tonight. I thought he set the tone defensively. He made a diving play in the first half for a loose ball, which was phenomenal. He was active. He rebounded. He made his free throws tonight. He was really engaged. I was really proud of the way he played. I was proud of the way our frontcourt played and really our whole team, for that matter,” said Donovan.
Young deflected some of the praise, giving credit for the victory to the Gators’ defensive effort and ability to share the ball despite lacking an offensive initiator.
“Even without a point guard, we can all go out there and play defense and we have confidence in that. We were able to execute and still run our game.”
STILL UP IN THE AIR
Donovan refused to address the status of senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who has missed the first six games of the season (including the exhibition) due to suspension, after the contest. Wilbekin is likely to return to the court for Florida on Monday at Jacksonville, which OnlyGators.com reported over the summer, but Donovan would not make that announcement yet and went with the “no comment” approach for the first time.
“He still has stuff he has to do, so I’m not going to comment on any of those things here right now. If he continues to do what he has been doing, which is moving in the right direction – [and] I’m proud of him – but I’m not prepared to make any statement that he’s coming back to our team,” he said.
SECOND REDSHIRT COMING?
Sophomore guard Dillon Graham (hips) has already been lost for the season and plans to take a medical redshirt, and it is looking more and more like another member of the Gators’ backcourt will be heading in that direction.
On Thursday, junior Eli Carter only saw three minutes of game action, his fewest on the young season. It is obvious that he’s struggling to run up the court and lacks mobility to be an effective defender. Donovan pointed out as much after the game.
“It’s so hard for him. Right now with our depth issues, he’s kind of, ‘Hey, just stick me in there when you can.’ He’s done nothing wrong. I worry about him moving; I worry about his mobility,” Donovan explained.
“Right now being unhealthy, it’s hard a lot of times when the score is [close] in a grind out game. Possessions become very important. I trust him mentally, but right now physically [he can’t do it]. And he knows. He’s been kind enough and good enough to say, ‘Coach, use me however you need me to.’ That’s the thing I really love about him as a kid. He understands the situation.
“I think he’s frustrated and tired of being hurt. I think he’d like to be healthy, but he’s just not.”
HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS
» Florida improved to 2-0 all-time against Middle Tennessee State with UF beating MTSU by 20+ points in consecutive seasons.
» The Gators played their third game in the last six days.
» UF swept the Global Sports Challenge, an exempt tournament, finishing 4-0 and winning the de facto yet nonexistent event title.
» Florida is 8-1 against Sun Belt teams under Donovan.
» The Gators have won 19-straight games in the O’Dome dating back to the 2011-12 season as well as 20 consecutive non-conference home games.
» Florida is 58-8 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding opponents under 71 points in a game.
» Four-straight opponents have failed to rack up at least 60 points against the Gators.
» Donovan (419) is now just 29 wins behind Dale Brown (448) for second-most in SEC history. He is currently the longest-tenured head basketball coach in the league.
OTHER DOUBLE-FIGURE GATORS
» Finney-Smith was second on the team with 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting. He hit all six of his free throws and matched Young with a team-high six boards.
» It took sophomore G Michael Frazier II a while to get going, but he eventually did and hit 5-of-9 shots to post 13 points.
» Senior Fs Casey Prather and Will Yeguete each finished 4-for-5, scoring 11 and 10 points, respectively.
» Walker only hit 2-of-5 attempts from the floor but easily had his best overall game of the season, making all four free throws and posting 10 points on the evening.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On there being 43 fouls and 48 foul shots, combined, in the game due to the new hand-check rule: “It may be a painful year from a spectator standpoint for a while but hopefully it will move into a positive direction once it becomes a second nature.”
» On the Gators not shooting a lot of three-pointers this season: “As long as we take good ones. The good part about it right now is I can get on Billy when we get home because we would’ve been 40 percent from the three-point line except he was 0-for-2. He actually brought down our three-point shooting percentage. … I think we’re playing to our identity at least.”
» On Yeguete draining a three-pointer, the third of his career and second in as many contests: “Well two in five games, that’s good. Let’s keep it at that pace right now for him. But [if] he’s wide open, we’ll let him take one. And then I can just say, ‘Will, come on, you know.’”
@ONLYGATORS TWEET OF THE GAME
Lob to Yeguete under the basket – bounces off the BordeauxHawk – grabbed by Prather who gets fouled and heads to the line.
— OnlyGators.com (@onlygators) November 22, 2013