There is seemingly no end to the number of clichés centering on the ever-important theme of teamwork in sports.
Signs and reminders of the imperativeness of being accountable and working with surrounding brethren are often spotted on walls in weight and locker rooms from the high school ranks through the pros.
While Florida head coach Billy Donovan may have stopped short of posting a sign in the Gators’ basketball complex reading “There Is No I In Team” this week, Donovan did state after his team’s 78-61 victory over Air Force on Saturday that his team spent the past week getting to know each other better on the floor.
“I think we got better the last couple days recognizing each other’s strengths, talents and abilities,” Donovan said. “We showed that a little bit more in the second half … but I still think for a complete game, we’ve got to not go into a game thinking ‘what do I gotta do’ … they’ve gotta move past that.”
Similar to their three previous outings prior to Air Force, the No. 14 Gators got off to a shaky start on the offensive end of the floor, taking questionable shots in order to establish a rhythm. According to Donovan, the key to Florida changing its early-game offensive struggles is to change its collective early-game mindset.
“We’ve got to get better at coming into a game offensively and predetermining how we want to play as individuals instead of letting the game dictate how we should play,” Donovan said.
“I think our first 19 shots, 11 were threes. Believe me, I’m an advocate of the three point line, but there’s gotta be some level of balance that we have … I think our guys gotta get over when their shot is not falling and/or the game offensively is not going the way they wanted.”
To drive home is point, Donovan singled out junior guard Scottie Wilbekin. Despite having a rather poor game offensively, Wilbekin moved past his inability to fill up the stat sheet, and made his presence known on the defensive end of the floor — holding Air Force’s Michael Lyons to 11 points, 10 shy of his season average.
With a triumvirate of talented seniors expected to lead the Gators’ offensive charge entering the season, Florida knew that it would have at least one player each game that it could count on to make plays when needed.
On Saturday, two of those seniors — guard Kenny Boynton and forward Erik Murphy — sprang to life, dropping a collective 35 points on a combined 12-for-20 shooting.
While it is known the ability is there for both players to have strong scoring outbursts at any moment, Donovan says the biggest issue is getting the ball in their hands at opportune moments.
“Coming out of the Kansas State game, I really felt like offensively we were not very good,” Donovan said. “Erik gets off five shots in the game, he’s three-for-five and there’s a lot of times we could have got it to him, but we didn’t.”
“We’re not finding each other at the right time and making the game easy on ourselves and the last couple days from an offensive standpoint, I’ve just tried to show them when the balls in guys’ hands, the reads and decisions they got to make.”
The result of the Gators finding ways to get Murphy the ball proved to be hard on an Air Force team which tried frantically to find an answer for the versatile forward all evening.
“I was just trying to take open shots and if they switched on me, try to take advantage of the mismatch in the post,” Murphy said. “I felt like sometimes in the post it was open because a smaller guy was on me.”
While Murphy may have put up the most points — and ultimately garnered MVP honors from the Orange Bowl Classic committee — it was Boynton who stole the show in his unofficial homecoming to south Florida on Saturday.
A 14-point performance is not out of the norm for Boynton, who will more than likely leave Florida as the school’s all-time leading scorer, but after a string of cold performances leading up to the Gators’ victory at the BB&T Center in Sunrise (Fla.), it was surely a welcome sight for both Boynton and his teammates, to see his shots begin to fall.
“It felt good to come out and play an all around good game,” said Boynton, who played in front of an estimated group of 20 family members and friends. “We were definitely happy with the win — we had a couple of tough practices. We’re just trying to basically win out from here.”
With so much to work on between now and tournament time, hearing a player state a goal of winning out may either incite enthusiasm or provide a cringe-worthy moment for fans.
However, with the Gators acknowledging perhaps their biggest issue on Saturday, perhaps their second half run — one in which Florida notched 16 scores on seven assists — may prove to be a glimpse of things to come.
Donovan alluded to as much when speaking on Boynton after the game: [Boynton’s] shots came off of him being a recipient,” Donovan said. “And that’s the way we have to play — where somebody finds Rosario, somebody finds Murphy, somebody finds Young. We got to find each other better, and I thought in the second half we found [Boynton], and he was able to put the ball in the basket.”
With a challenging conference schedule fast approaching, the Gators have little time to continue to figure each other out. As Donovan pointed out, it’s integral for the Gators to not worry about how their offense will come, but rather, determine how they will put their teammates in position to be successful.
Florida has the immense luxury of having more than a few players who are able to galvanize the team with their playmaking ability, and if they can find ways to share and put each other in good spots, the shots will assuredly begin to fall early and often.
“I don’t think our team is never not confident in ourselves,” Murphy said. “Every game we have the mindset if we do what we have to do we’ll win.”
If the Gators can build off their second-half performance against the Falcons on Saturday, there is little doubt that they will be able to make a deep-run come March.
And they will certainly do so as team.