Despite having a 17 point lead in the second half the Gators weren’t able to hold on, falling to the #1 ranked Duke Blue Devils 87-84. Another strong effort from Jalen Hudson (24 points, 10 rebounds) wasn’t enough to overcome Duke’s mix of size, strength, and perimeter skill. Marvin Bagley lead the way for Duke as he torched the Gators for 30 points and 15 rebounds. John Egbunu’s absence was felt dearly in this one, as the Blue Devils continuously posted up Bagley against smaller Gators like Egor Koulechov and Kevarrius Hayes who did not possess the bulk necessary to guard him down low. With tonight’s victory, Duke was the victor of the “Motion” bracket of the Phil Knight Invitational Tournament. Here were some of the other storylines.
We knew going in that Duke was a tremendous rebounding team, and the Gators did about as well as they could have in limiting them considering the size of frontcourt players available. The final rebounding tally was a manageable 45-37 in Duke’s favor, and the Blue Devils were only marginally better in offensive rebounds beating the Gators 14-13. There were definitely some key boards the Gators couldn’t come up with, but Florida could have done a lot worse in this category.
After taking on Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams and now Marvin Bagley, the Gators have taken on two of the best low post scoring threats in the country over the course of three days. Bagley was definitely the difference maker tonight, as he was the go to offensive player in every Duke set. When he wasn’t carving out space and hitting a hook shot, he was waiting for Florida’s double team to come and passing out to cutting teammates. Florida played good team defense tonight but when it comes to guarding long, muscular bodies down low if you can’t match size then there isn’t much you can do.
When you play good basketball teams, there is sometimes a desire from high-motor players to want to do too much. I think we saw that a bit tonight as there were some mental errors from being a bit too amped up when guarding. Chiozza and Hudson were often caught playing help defense while one pass away (generally considered a sin when playing defense, help should come from the furthest player away from the ball as to not give the offense an easy pass to a shooter) and that lead to the first half shooting barrage from Grayson Allen and Gary Trent. KeVaughn Allen also left his feet on closeouts to try to block shots, which made him fall for shot fakes such as the one Grayson Allen did late in the second half to hit the biggest three pointer of the game. Though these were defensive errors, they came out of players working hard and trying to do too much and you can argue that if a player is going to make a defensive mistake, those are the best they can commit.
Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword
When the Gators have been successful this season it has come from their ability to beat people one on one and either hit a shot or make a play for a teammate. Playing one on one basketball has its highs, such as Hudson creating is own shots for some big hits against Gonzaga, it also has its lows. We saw that tonight when the Gators were down by one with the shot clock off, Hudson went one on one only to mishandle the rock and turn it over. Even though the season is young we have seen that isolation play from Hudson be superbly effective, so fans just need to take the good with the bad and understand that there is two sides to the style of basketball the Gators will be playing this season.
Reasons for Optimism
No matter who you take your first loss to in a season, there always seems to be some doubts that creep into the minds of fans after tasting defeat. Things aren’t all negative though, so here are some positives that Florida fans should take from tonight. Firstly, the Gators easily hung with the #1 team in the country for 40 minutes. Not only did they do that, but they did it while Duke relentlessly used their best skill (post play) against Florida’s Achilles heel (size down low) and Duke still only barely edged out a victory. Take solace in the fact that when Egbunu is back, one of the Gators’ biggest issues will have been instantly addressed. Secondly, the Gators’ defense actually looked good tonight against the #1 ranked offensive team in the country. Florida was able to play without fouling (one of the water marks of playing good defense) and Duke only shot 43.9% from the field. That is a manageable field goal percentage to give up, and Duke was only able to shoot that while getting lots of easy offensive rebound putbacks (many of which would not have been available if Egbunu was healthy). If Florida keeps opponents to 43.9% from the field every game without fouling a ton this season, they will be in great shape. Lastly, the Gators leave this tournament showing that their wing players can score against elite competition. Florida had four players in double figures tonight (Hudson 24, Allen 17, Koulechov 15 and Chiozza 13) against some tough defensive resistance, and those four guys are going to be really tough for opponents to scout down the road. Hold youe heads up high, Gators fans, this team is in good shape.
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