College basketball is back and with it came the seventh-ranked Florida Gators first victory of the season. The 33rd straight win in the O’Dome.
After a sluggish exhibition win over Barry University last Friday, Florida erased the cons from last week and turned them into pros.
Here are the 5 takeaways from the Gators 68-45 victory over the William & Mary Tribe:
Signs of life on D
Before the season, during the scrimmages and the Barry game, Florida’s defense was just a pure concern, especially after Billy Donovan mentioned the team averaging 80-plus points allowed throughout those scrimmages. But after holding William & Mary to only 45 points and under 20 points at halftime, the Gators showed a tremendous sign of a potential defensive tenacity that last year’s team possessed although they’ll vary. The Tribe shot 31.6 percent from the field, including an atrocious 2-of-22 from beyond the arc and turned over the ball 12 times. The Gators also held the Tribe from getting any offense going. Marcus Thornton, the team’s leading scorer was shutdown only recording 10 points, and shot 3-of-11 on the night. Although Florida played its best defense yet, Donovan doesn’t believe William & Mary was pressured on exactly every shot. However, he was glad from Kasey Hill’s lockdown on Thornton.
Donovan’s Take: “I was really proud of Kasey Hill. I thought he was phenomenal. The fact that he had to guard Thornton every minute he was out there, except for a couple of possessions, he did a terrific job on him.”
Run away with the game
Florida showed another characteristic that will be valuable throughout the season, especially against high-quality opponents. That is to run away with the lead. Against Barry, UF failed to execute that and as a result, they allowed Barry to cut down the lead and only allow the Gators to win by nine points. But against William & Mary, Florida proved they are a team that can and will push the lead. Florida created its insurmountable lead when the Gators decided to go on a 15-0 run with the score at 21-14 at the 8:08 mark in the first half. That would cap off a 21-point lead, which was only second to the largest lead of 28.
Horford’s Take: “We want gradual improvement. We’re not looking to make leaps and bounds. It’s a little bit at a time and then at the end of the year you’re where you need to be. As long as we’re moving forward we’re happy as a team.”
Stretch the floor
Everyone had the hopes of having an inside presence this season with new additions at the center position, but after no John Egbunu, and Chris Walker being out, Jon Horford was left to redeem the post game. But Donovan said the Gators are just not going to have one this year. But with that came a new game plan – stretch the floor. Florida will able to do that because Horford has displayed it in back-to-back games and it’s looking like that will happen a lot this year. Horford is setting himself for deep-range shots, which, surprisingly, we are starting to realize he can do. Horford swished in the first points of the 2014-15 campaign for Florida and in total made 4-of-5 from the field for 11 points and collected five rebounds. Horford’s consistent play in the paint and from long-range will help the team’s offense flow.
Donovan’s Take: “Jon rolled to some baskets. We got him high and low touches. I think Jon’s versatile in terms of being able to step away and shoot he’s also gonna give us a presence up front. That will be important.”
Freshmen apprentices thriving
Devin Robinson did not have a great game against Barry, in fact it was a poor performance. Chris Chiozza played a sub-par first half, but rebounded in the second half to show signs of growth. Against William & Mary, both showed better play. Robinson scored seven points on 3-of-8 shooting and grabbed four rebounds. He also added two dunks, one of which was an alley from Cali delivered by Chiozza. The freshman point guard also had his best performance yet totaling four points and dishing out three assists while grabbing two rebounds. Both players showed poise throughout the game and are learning more of the collegiate way.
Donovan’s Take: “I like coaching him. He takes it very well. He’s getting better. He’s improving. I think you can see talent wise things he did. I thought he made a very good step from a week ago, which I think was positive for out team. I was really, really happy with the growth he made.”
Equal weight on the balance beam
Balanced scoring will prove to be Florida’s call on offense. With all the contribution this team can get with their talented attack to score the ball, every player has to pitch in, especially if the defensive decides not to show up for a game. Finney-Smith (15), Frazier II (14), Horford (11), Eli Carter (8) was an example of everyone getting involved and sharing the rock.
Frazier II’s Take: “We’re a well balanced team. On any given night it could be anyone of us. It was a great team win and that’s what we need moving forward.”