It won’t show up on the stat sheet, but it was the biggest part of the Florida Gators basketball game with the Tennessee Volunteers.
It’s supposedly not a “tangible” factor yet it hung over the Gators in Knoxville like a wet blanket as they lost 83-69.
It was a lack of energy and it baffled head coach Mike White to the point of a diatribe.
When he was first asked if he could explain what happened, he responded, “I cant. I can’t.”
As the Vols put up the second highest point output the Gators defense has allowed this season, it showed a lack of maturity that White thought had been left in the non-conference season.
“I was thoroughly disappointed, discouraged. I just thought we were beyond that. We had a couple of halves earlier in the season defensively that were similar to that half, but probably not to that extent. And I thought we had gotten beyond that. We had talked it out. We had showed film. I thought we had learned from those things.”
The defense is needed, says White, to make up for an offensive performance that is self admittedly lacking.
This was seen first hand when Tennessee held Florida to .343 shooting, their second lowest output of the season thus far. What has been the Gators saving grace has been a tenacious defense that leads to offense and capitalizes on making the opponent play sloppy. Yet on Wednesday night, the Vols pushed Florida to turnovers and outscored them 22-18 off turnovers, the first time this season the Gators have been on the wrong end of that stat.
Forward Justin Leon felt the lack of energy before tip off even came.
“It probably started out throughout walk-through because we just individually we just weren’t in it,” he recalls.
“Then throughout the game it was like everybody was just like we weren’t playing as a team like we have been in the past. Everybody was kind of I guess in their own mindset. We weren’t playing together like we normally have been. I guess it was just one of those days. Just fell on the wrong day I guess.”
And while those days come—Mama herself said there’d be days like this—Mike White says until the offense has it’s day, the defense and energy can’t take a day off for this Florida Gators basketball team.
“During the game, you say to yourself, ‘Surely, we’re going to get this thing going defensively. Surely, we’re going to get into a defensive rhythm because that’s what we’ve done 97% of the season. That’s who we are.’ But when you go back and watch the film…maybe we needed more substitutions. Maybe we sure have thrown more of our reserves out there a little bit earlier, just to make a statement to some of the older guys. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that and we came out at the tip, uncontested three from [Devon] Baulkman who might be their second-best shooter. Missed block-out on their best offensive rebounder. Uncontested short-corner jumpshot, we’re down 2-0. Call timeout. It wasn’t a minute or two later that Kevin Punter, maybe the best scorer in our league, shoots an uncontested three in transition. We don’t even lift our hands. It’s just not us, and it can’t be us, because we have proven over the course of several games that we’re not going to beat someone in the 80s or 90s. Again, that’s not us right now.”
With the LSU Tigers and freshman phenom Ben Simmons coming to town for a Saturday matinee, the Gators will have to find that energy level that has carried them through one of the roughest schedule stretches in this programs history; and Mike White knows that he’ll need the entire program to be ready for one of the greatest individual talents they’ll see in program history.
“Ben Simmons is arguably the best player in the country,” says White.
“He’s a heckuva talent. He has an unbelievable ability with his size to make others around him better and to finish, to offensive rebound, draw fouls and convert at the foul line. He is a load… Our energy level and focus has to be off the charts. It can’t be one of us. It has to be all of us. Everyone on the bench, staff included.”
The Florida Gators basketball team will take on LSU at 1:30 on Saturday in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The game can be seen on CBS and as always follow along with GatorCountry for full coverage and updates.