Entering their SEC home opener the Florida Gators talked about playing within their culture to guide them the remainder of the season. On Saturday night they started to do just that.
Eli Carter recorded 20 points and Dorian Finney-Smith added 16 as the Gators (9-6, 2-0 SEC) routed the Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-8, 0-2 SEC) 72-47 at the Stephen O’ Connell Center, Saturday night.
Carter hasn’t had a scoring performance like that since the Miami contest earlier in the season, when he scored 21 points. The transfer guard has been battling some injuries and illnesses this season that haven’t allowed him to be at full health, but, regardless he has battled through.
When Carter has been able to lock in, he becomes a difference maker.
“When he’s out there, he’s almost like having another point guard on there mentally because he’s got really good vision, he’s got a good feel, he knows how to play,” head coach Billy Donovan said of Carter. “He can make the game easy for other guys and we need that out of him.”
Not only has Carter been able to provide offensively, but learning how to engage himself in the rest of the game is what he’s been able to improve on lately.
Donovan mentioned Carter was able to take charges and dish out assists against Mississippi State and besides scoring the ball he’s grown in other aspects of the game. Being able to watch Carter deliver that type of performance is crucial for the Gators in the long run.
What’s even better news for this Gators squad is that they are finally improving on playing like a unit.
The Gators once again displayed tremendous ball movement. This team oriented attack is allowing players to get off clean looks at the basket and put up great reps. Eight of the 10 players that played against the Bulldogs got on the board and the Gators dished out 19 assists as a team, which was tied for a season-best.
“I thought our ball movement was really good, I thought we shared it, we played unselfishly, 19 assists is a great number,” Donovan said. “In my opinion, we didn’t turn it over very much, so we did some good things on the offense and in terms of ball movement.”
In their game against South Carolina, Florida shot only 43 percent from the floor. Compare that versus Miss. St., and UF gradually increased their percentage to 53 percent. Similarly, shot selection has been handled greatly by the Gators through the first two games of SEC play.
Florida has now won five straight in their series against Miss. St., and have won 20 consecutive SEC regular season games tracking back to last season.
Now, playing for something, the Gators have begun their conference schedule 2-0 and seek to maintain their streak when they hoss the Auburn Tigers on Thursday. Auburn (9-6, 1-1 SEC) just came off a victory over Missouri 85-79.
Considering what this year’s Gators squad has gone through this season, taking those struggles and applying them to future competition has guided this team.
“I think these guys had to face some adversity with some of the places we played and some of the losses that we had,” Donovan said. “I think the best thing for this team and who knows how the year finishes out in the league for us, but the best thing in my opinion for this team was the fact that our schedule was so challenging.”