Fighting back from a double-digit deficit to take the lead late in the second half, the Florida Gators (13-4, 2-1 SEC) failed to finish their comeback attempt against the South Carolina Gamecocks (11-5, 2-1 SEC), falling to their Southeastern Conference foe 72-69 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL on Saturday. Florida head coach Billy Donovan had plenty to say about his team’s performance after the game. We have compiled some of the key notes and quotes.
FREE THROW WOES PLAGUE GATORS
The Gators defense failed to get necessary stops at the end of the game Saturday, but ask anyone who was watching the contest and they will tell you it was Florida’s poor free throw shooting that took away every opportunity that presented itself. UF missed their final five free throws including three inside the final four minutes of the game. “The thing that killed us the last four or five minutes of the game was we didn’t make free throws. The free throw shooting hurt us,” Donovan admitted. “I try to create some level of pressure when they’re shooting free throws [in practice]. And we’ve been doing it for a while. You try to do it in practice.”
Though junior point guard Erving Walker uncharacteristically missed the front end of a one-and-one, it was the Gators’ frontcourt that really struggled from the charity stripe. “When you look at your frontcourt and those guys go 6-for-14 from the free throw line, it’s hard,” he said. “A lot of times being a great free throw shooting team has to do with how well your frontcourt players are shooting because they have the most opportunities to get fouled because they are playing closer to the rim more often than not.”
OFFENSE HAS IMPROVED AS DEFENSE WILTS
Struggling to post at least 70 points for seven-straight games over approximately a month, Florida found some offense as the year came to a close and a new one began. Since Dec. 31, the Gators have posted totals of 71, 84, 77, 81 and 69 points in consecutive games. While their offensive improvement has garnered much attention, their defensive struggled have been overlooked for the same reason. Florida has allowed opponents to score at least 70 points in three-straight games after only permitting that many twice in the previous 14 contests.
“The one thing that was being lost in [the offensive slump] was the fact that we were really defending people. We were keeping people in the 50s and low 60s,” Donovan said. “Ever since we started making some shots, our defense has really, really dropped off. People didn’t notice because the ball was going in the basket.”
Donovan added that the Gators “defensive intensity” was the most disappointing thing to him about his team’s performance in the first half, something that led to them being in a double-digit hole that was tough to fight out of throughout the remainder of the contest.
On if the team appeared laid back after a big win like they have been previously: “I didn’t feel that way in this game.”
On first half struggles: “I think they blocked eight shots in the first half. And then we come into the half and [Alex] Tyus and [Vernon] Macklin are 3-for-13 from the field. Our lack of understanding about how we needed to attack them offensively… We had way too many shots blocked. We had guys driving down the lane without a purpose, getting caught up in the air. We didn’t make the right decision with the ball.”
On why sophomore F Erik Murphy (foot) did not play: “He was available. He practiced sparingly the last two days. With the way the game was going, I didn’t want to put him in that situation. This is a better week for him going into the Auburn game because we got Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday where he can get back. It was probably better for his health that he didn’t play.”