For a half it was about as good as it gets for the Florida Gators Thursday night. Looking every bit the nation’s number one team, the Gators shot nearly 80 percent from the field, dominated the boards and played defense with the most intensity they’ve shown in the first three games and there was nothing the Jacksonville University Dolphins could do to stop the onslaught.
The Gators hit 23 of their first 27 shots and finished the first half 23-29 (79.3 percent) and as good as they were offensively, they were every bit as good on the defensive end. With Al Horford and Joakim Noah leading the way with a combined 31 points (14-16 shooting) and 13 rebounds, the Gators raced to a 56-20 halftime lead.
“I feel like we came out focused and ready to play,” said Horford, who finished the night with 18 points and nine rebounds.
But the first half focus turned into a complacent, lackadaisical second half in which the Gators were outfought and outhustled. Florida was never threatened in this 90-61 win over the Dolphins, but it was clear that the Gators had an attention span that completely ran out at halftime.
“If we come with the same focus we had in the first half and play with that focus the entire game we can be pretty special,” said point guard Taurean Green, who had seven points and five assists as the Gators improved to 3-0 this season and extended their winning streak over the last two years to 14 games before an announced crowd of 11,477 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. “You saw what we did in the first half. We’ve got to play two halves like that. We’re really disappointed that we didn’t come out focused in the second half.”
In the first half when the Gators weren’t running up and down the floor, practically scoring at will, they were making certain JU rarely got an uncontested shot from the field. While Florida sizzled, the Dolphins were packed in ice, held to 24.1 percent overall from the field and 18.2 percent from the three-point stripe.
The Gators busted the game wide open in the first half when they went on a 20-3 run that extended their lead to 33-9. Florida stretched the lead to 31 at the 6:17 mark when Green hit a three-pointer to make it 45-14 and the Gators outscored JU 11-6 the rest of the way for a 36-point halftime lead.
That’s where the Gators lost their edge.
“We played very solid in the first half but we got very complacent,” said Noah, who was disappointed that the Gators didn’t play the second half with the same level of intensity that they played the first half. “We’re trying to get better here so we can’t really be happy with our performance. It was a great first half effort but I think we should realize that we got beat in the second half because we didn’t play focused and didn’t play hungry. They beat us in the second half if you look at the numbers.”
Jacksonville outscored the Gators, 41-34, in the second half. They outshot Florida, 56-5 percent to the Gators’ 37.9 percent, and they outhustled the Gators on both ends of the floor.
“The second half was a half where I really believed our basketball team was outworked … they were outhustled,” said Coach Billy Donovan. “Jacksonville was more competitive and a lot tougher than we were in the second half. I think it was a great learning experience because I think there is so much that surrounds our basketball team about our talent level and how gifted we are and how great we are but there’s a team with certainly not as much physicality, not as much height, maybe not as much depth and not as much experience and our team was totally outplayed in the second half.”
It was two and a half minutes into the second half before the Gators scored their first points and it wasn’t until the midway point when they actually scored on consecutive possessions.
“I thought we came out in the second half a little full of ourselves … a little fat and not hungry,” said Donovan. “When you come out like that the result was them shooting 57 percent from the field and scoring 41 points against our defense. That part was disappointing.”
Horford felt the Gators came out of the locker with the right frame of mind and that showed with the first half performance.
“I feel like we came out focused,” he said. “We wanted to make a statement early. Coach has been telling us to shoot the ball with confidence. I think we were able to do that tonight.”
While the Gators couldn’t miss in the first half, they were disoriented on offensively in the second half.
“We can’t have that happen because as we go on teams can definitely take advantage of that,” said Horford. “We have to be on edge for all 40 minutes.”
The edge was evident in the locker room before the game, according to Noah, who said he could see a ready level on the faces of all the players before the opening tip.
“I thought our focus level was exactly where it needed to be but I think in the second half there was a little bit of a letdown,” he said. “That’s a little disappointing. I have a feeling we’re going to practice hard tomorrow.”
GAME NOTES: The Gators return to action Saturday night against Tennessee-Chattanooga (7 p.m. tipoff) at the O’Connell Center … This was the fourteenth straight game that a team has shot 45 percent or below from the three-point stripe against UF … The Gators were 8-15 from the three-point line for the game, 5-8 in the first half … Backup point guard Walter Hodge joined Horford (18 points) and Noah (16 points) in double figures with a season-high 11. Chris Richard added nine off the bench … Freshmen Brandon Powell and Dan Werner had the best scoring nights of their short careers. Powell hit a couple of three-pointers and finished with eight points while Werner had seven … After two straight games below 10 turnovers, the Gators were a little bit sloppy. Florida turned the ball over 10 times in each half … After a poor 50 percent effort from the foul line against North Florida Tuesday night, the Gators rebounded by hitting 14-18 against JU.