If there was one thing that was a concern for the Florida Gators entering this season, it was having an identity on defense, but that wasn’t a question in their season-opener.
Florida held William & Mary to a 30 percent clip, shooting 17-56 from the field, as Dorian Finney-Smith totaled 15 points to lead the No. 7 Gators (1-0) to a dominant defeat over the Tribe (0-1) 68-45 Friday night at the Stephen O’ Connell Center.
With the Gators applying consistent defense and forcing the Tribe to 12 turnovers on the night and were held under 20 points before halftime. It was the first and greatest display this year’s team has shown Donovan.
“It was going to be psychological warfare during the game and we were going to have to be prepared to play for 35 seconds on defense and then we would have to rebound the ball,” Frazier II said. “We did a great job of not breaking down in the half court set and did a good job of everybody team rebounding.”
Despite his team showing a great defense for the first time in front of head man Billy Donovan, the tenured coach believes they could still get better but applauded the improved effort.
“You see 2-of-22 from the three-point line and that number is obviously really, really loud for us defensively,” Donovan said. “But I’m not so sure that they (William & Mary) didn’t get really pretty clean looks that just didn’t go down and I’ll like to see our percentage of those 22 shots where I sit there and say we really defended this well. I thought we were better defensively, making good strides. I thought we moved better and they’re a hard team to guard, but overall I thought our guys did a pretty good job defensively.”
In addition to the improved defense, Florida was able to finally out-rebound their first opponent throughout the preseason and exhibition against Barry, collecting 39 rebounds to William & Mary’s 31.
Florida’s offense continued to show why it’s one of this team’s strength.
Three Gators recorded a double-digit scoring performance as Finney-Smith (15), Frazier II (14) and Jon Horford (11) led the way on offense.
Each of those players respectively collected five rebounds and made at least one three-pointer, adding to Florida’s perimeter threat. Shooting 6-of-17 from beyond the arc was an improved efficient showing after the 37 shots versus Barry.
Florida also shut down the Tribe’s leading scorer and NBA-prospect from last season, Marcus Thornton, as he was forced to just 3-of-11 from the field and missed all five of his three-point attempts to finish with 10 points.
During the first half, Finney-Smith dove for a loose ball and hurt his wrist fighting for the ball. He would be taken to the locker room and get his left wrist taped up, but he was able to play effectively throughout the game.
Donovan said he was taken to the hospital after the game for x-rays and hopes it’s just a sprain.
Collectively, Florida recorded their 33rd consecutive victory at home — a record that has been stretched since last season.
The Gators will play their next opponent Miami on Monday in the O’Connell Center at 7 p.m.
Until then, Donovan was pleased with the performance his team showed to open the 2014-15 campaign.
“We did a great job preparing for these guys (William & Mary) while we we’re in practice, and it showed tonight,” Frazier said. “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.”