Tuesday morning the Florida Gators found out that Corey Brewer has mononucleosis and he’ll be out for perhaps a month or more. Wednesday morning they will be holding their collective breath when Joakim Noah gets his bloodwork done. He’s been hacking and wheezing with symptoms quite like the ones Coach Billy Donovan has had for almost a month.
Not that any of those things mattered Tuesday night. Brewer was sidelined, Noah played poorly because he was under the weather and the Gators looked tired and slow from eight games in the last 19 days. Even with all those breaks, Southern couldn’t keep up. Florida made it look way too easy, improving to 7-1 with an 83-27 win before an announced crowd of 10,684 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
The wear and tear of such a demanding November schedule was evident in Florida’s on-court demeanor Tuesday night. The energy and passion you normally associate with this team was missing from the opening tip and that forced the Gators to grind it out on the defensive end where they held Southern to just three second half field goals and 20.8 percent shooting (10-48) for the game.
Florida outscored Southern 20-4 over the final 12:25 of the first half en route to a 34-16 halftime lead. The Gators got their first 30-point lead (47-17) at the 15:48 mark in the second half on a layup by Walter Hodge. The lead was stretched to 40 (61-21) with 9:48 to play on a jump shot by Al Horford and freshman Marreese Speights made it a 50-point game (74-24) on a layup with 4:14 left. Only a three-pointer by Emmanuel Njomo with 1:53 remaining in the game ensured the Jaguars of scoring in double figures for the second half.
The Gators simply overwhelmed the Jaguars even though it was obvious that the Gators were a tired team.
“The best thing about our team is our guys play with great energy and passion and fire and our team doesn’t have that right now,” said. “I don’t think it’s because of a lack of trying but they are emotionally and physically and mentally drained and they’re sick. It’s something you have to deal with and battle with and that’s why I thought they gave a great effort and did everything they could even though they didn’t play very pretty and our freshmen gave us a boost off the bench. I think we’re a sick, tired team right now.”
Florida’s freshmen got extended minutes as Donovan rested his starters for much of the game. Sophomore Walter Hodge started in Brewer’s place as Donovan opted for a three-guard lineup to match up with Southern’s three guards. Hodge responded with nine points and six assists as he played both the wing and the point.
Freshman center Marreese Speights matched Al Horford for a game-high 12 points and he added 12 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Freshman guard Brandon Powell hit all three of his three-pointers and scored 10 points, his first double figures game as a Gator. Dan Werner had a pair of three-pointers and eight points while Jonathon Mitchell had four points and four rebounds. Every Gator that played scored including walkons Brett Swanson (three), Garrett Tyler (two) and Jack Berry (two).
Noah played only 12 minutes. He scored three points and grabbed six rebounds but it was obvious that he just didn’t have the energy that he normally puts into a game.
“He didn’t have it and it was upsetting him with the way he was playing,” said Donovan. “It was almost becoming a frustrating situation because he wanted to go out there and play and compete and do well. He just didn’t have it tonight health-wise.”
Donovan compared Noah’s symptoms to his own
“I’m not running a temperature; I don’ think Joakim is either,” said Donovan, who said he is congested, run down, tired and dealing with sinus issues.
Brewer was running a high temperature during the Gators’ two-day stay in Las Vegas. He played sick against Western Kentucky and again in Florida’s first loss of the season, an 82-80 overtime squeaker to Kansas Saturday night. Brewer played very well against Western Kentucky (20 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, six steals) in spite of feeling so poorly, but it was evident against Kansas that his game was off.
Donovan took exception to a national writer that made rather disparaging statements about the way Brewer played against Kansas freshman Julian Wright.
“The guy [Brewer] yesterday had a 102 fever and probably shouldn’t have even have been playing out in Vegas,” said Donovan. “He was complaining that he was going to throw up before the Western Kentucky game and he was absolutely miserable before the Kansas game. I asked him if he wanted to play or sit out and could he not go but he wanted to go. Corey hasn’t been himself the last four or five days. He got the bloodwork done today and it came back this morning that he’s got mono.”
Brewer plays the small forward position for the Gators but at 6-9 he is a timely rebounder and he is Florida’s lock down defender on the perimeter. Without him, Donovan is going to have to shuffle the lineup to find combinations that work over the next month.
“I’m going to look at a lot of different things,” said Donovan. “We’re going to look at playing three guards. We’re going to look at the small forward spot with either Werner or Mitchell or the other thing would be, depending on the health of Jo, going really big and playing Joakim (6-11) at the small forward spot along with Al Horford (6-10) and Chris Richard (6-9) and playing really big.”
Donovan is going to try to balance out the Gators’ need for rest in the next three or four days with their need to get in practice time. With the schedule so crowded with games, Florida has had very few practice days and that’s hindered their progress.
Add in the travel schedule that sent the Gators to Las Vegas on Thanksgiving and got them back in Gainesville at 9 a.m. Sunday morning and it’s no wonder the Gators looked like they were a tired team against Southern University.
“I think they need sleep, I think they need rest,” said Donovan. “They other thing I’m very cautious of is it has to be a balancing act. We desperately need practice. I can’t remember the last time we practiced at the level I would like to see us practice at. We’ve only had one day in preparation between games to prepare so a lot of it has been preparation. We need a couple of days to fine tune and work on the things we need to get better at.”
One thing Donovan is certain the team needs is to regain its emotional edge. With Brewer out indefinitely, the Gators are going to have to rely on their ability to focus and to play with energy and passion to compensate for the loss. For the season, Brewer is averaging 11.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game plus he leads the team with 16 steals.
“We have to get back to the emotion and that fire to be able to make up fro the absence of Corey,” said Donovan. “There’s not one person that’s going to make up for the absence of Corey, it’s going to be our whole, entire basketball team. Any time you lose a guy like Corey that’s a tough blow to our team with a guy that’s 6-9 and as multi-dimensional as he is.”
Next up for the Gators is Florida State in Tallahassee Sunday night. The Seminoles are 4-2 after an 81-66 loss to thirteenth-ranked Wisconsin Tuesday night