The view from the bench got old in a hurry for Vernon Macklin, who spent the last couple of practice days catching it from all angles from Billy Donovan. After spending the majority of losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky sitting in a chair on the sideline watching the Gators get torn up on the inside, Macklin turned in 28 foul-free minutes Saturday night as Florida (12-5, 1-2 SEC East) broke into the win column in Southeastern Conference play with a solid, 72-58, victory over LSU (9-8, 0-3 SEC West) before a crowd of 11,627 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
It was a case of role reversal for Macklin, whose foul problems had everything to do with just 10 points and four rebounds combined in 33 minutes of playing time in the two losses. Macklin fouled out against Vandy in only 14 minutes and he picked up four fouls in 19 minutes against Kentucky last Tuesday night. Saturday night, Macklin was the guy doing the damage on the inside — 14 points on 6-9 shooting from the field and eight rebounds — and his aggressive moves to the basket helped to keep LSU’s best low post player, Storm Warren, on the bench with foul problems. Averaging 13.8 points and 8.9 rebounds coming into the game, Warren played only 14 minutes and contributed only eight points and three rebounds.
Warren is a physical banger but without him pounding away, Macklin had free reign in the middle and he made LSU pay, particularly in the first half when he contributed 11 points, nine during Florida’s 26-13 run that allowed the Gators to stretch their lead from 6-4 to 32-17 during a stretch of 10:11. Warren picked up fouls one and two within 1:09 of each other and that sent him to a seat on the sidelines at the 15:13 mark.
That forced LSU to try to defend Macklin with beanpoles Garrett Green (6-11, 190) and Dennis Harris (6-11, 220), neither of which could handle Macklin when he put the ball on the floor, dipped his left shoulder and jump hooked coming across the lane. And on this night, there weren’t any silly fouls. Macklin didn’t get called for going over the back or for reach-in fouls that cost him in the two losses.
“I just didn’t think about it [foul trouble],” Macklin said. “I just came out of the gates and tried to get my position and keep my hands up and not try to contest shots I couldn’t block. It felt good not to be fouling like I was during the last two games.”
Macklin had been hearing all about the fouls in practice from Donovan, who was giving him an earful about playing smart and staying on the floor.
“He’s probably tired of me being on his back for the last two days working on post defense, moving his feet and not getting these fouls that have been keeping him on the bench,” Donovan said.
Macklin gave the Gators a post presence that has been missing at both ends of the floor, largely because he stayed out of foul trouble for a change. Keeping Macklin on the floor was essential Saturday night because Dan Werner’s minutes and contributions were limited after a two-day bout with the flu. Werner spent Saturday taking IV bags full of fluid just so he could give the Gators some minutes against the Tigers.
Having Werner at all was a good thing since it helped the Gators match up from a numbers standpoint with LSU. With a roster depleted by injuries, the Gators have to get by with an eight-man rotation so one sick player or one with foul problems seriously limits what they can do. LSU, which lost five seniors to graduation, has similar depth issues and goes with a nine-man rotation.
Depth was never an issue for the Gators against LSU. Although they faded in the final minutes of the first half when their 15-point lead shrunk to seven (37-30), the Gators came out of the locker room refreshed and ready to pour it on the Tigers at the start of the second half. The torrid second half start might have had something to do with a change in the practice regimen that Donovan tried in the days leading up to Saturday. Donovan split the practice in half, sending the team into the locker room to rest and watch some film before bringing them out to start what essentially was a second half.
“You’re always trying to find different ways to do different things to try to create practice as much as a game,” Donovan said. “Really what I did was midway through practice I made them go back into the locker room watch an edited cut up for about five to eight minutes on LSU and then quickly made them warm up and get right back into practice. It was interesting because there were certain guys that didn’t lose focus who were honed in on what we were trying to do and then there were some other guys that got off to a slow start.
“We probably need to do a little bit more of that to get these guys into a rhythm of being able to come out. I made the point to them at halftime that that’s why I did what I did. I don’t know if it helped or not but at least it exposed some of our slower starts in the second half.”
One guy who came out of the locker room fully focused to start the second half was freshman guard Kenny Boynton, who drilled three three-pointers during Florida’s 23-6 run that extended the Gators to a 60-36 lead with 12:52 remaining in the game. Boynton had one of his best games of the year, hitting 4-10 on three-pointers and finishing with 18 points, three rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot. Boynton only turned the ball over once.
Boynton was one of five Gators in double figures. Point guard Erving Walker matched Macklin’s 14 points and added four rebounds, six assists and three steals against only one turnover. Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus, who each contributed six points during the 23-6 run at the beginning of the second half, finished with 11 points each. Tyus matched Macklin with eight rebounds but he also contributed three blocked shots and two steals. Parsons, normally Florida’s sixth man, started due to Werner’s illness and he delivered five rebounds, three assists and a steal in addition to the points.
On this night, Florida’s depth issues weren’t a problem, an unexpected blessing after Vanderbilt and Kentucky wore the Gators down with a steady flow of fresh players off the bench. That lack of live bodies has handicapped Donovan in practice especially during recent weeks when 6-10 sophomore Kenny Kadji has joined 6-8 Adam Allen on the unable to perform list.
“This has been going on for like 2-1/2-to-3 weeks just trying to have a full allotment of guys in practice, whether it was (Ray) Shipman’s knee, whether it’s been Chandler’s calf or whether it’s been (Erik) Murphy’s shoulder or Dan Werner with the flu,” Donovan said.
Compounding the problem has been an inability to create game situations in practice. Leading up to the LSU game, Donovan just couldn’t give the Gators a realistic idea either in full or half court situations of what to expect.
“For example, I’ve got Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus,” Donovan said. “Okay, and I’ve got Ray Shipman trying to impersonate Tasmin Mitchell to get ready. I’ve got Kyle McClanahan impersonating Bo Spencer. Like there are just sometimes in practice that it’s hard to get a realistic look. Sometimes we have to watch more film and explain different things to them and try to mix up things. And sometimes we’re doing a lot of three-on-three and four-on-four.”
It’s a problem that Donovan will have to deal with all season but it’s one that can be compensated for when Macklin stays out of foul trouble and gives the Gators an inside presence at both ends of the floor. Macklin’s numbers against LSU weren’t dominant but they didn’t have to be.
All Donovan needs is for his junior big man to deliver games like the one he had Saturday night. The Gators have a much better chance to win with Macklin on the floor than when he’s watching the game from a chair on the bench.
FLORIDA 72, LOUISIANA STATE 58
At Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
LOUISIANA STATE (58) – Tasmin Mitchell 8-15 1-1 17, Dennis Harris 1-3 1-2 3, Chris Bass 3-5 0-0 6, Bo Spencer 2-9 2-2 6, Storm Warren 4-6 0-0 8, Eddie Ludwig 2-4 0-0 4, Chris Beattie 1-2 0-0 3, Garrett Green 2-9 0-2 4, Zach Kinsley 2-6 0-0 5, Aaron Dotson 1-2 0-0 2. TOTALS 26-61 4-8 58.
Field-goal shooting: 26 of 61 for 42.5 percent. 3-point shooting: 2 of 12 for 16.7 percent. Free-throw shooting: 4 of 8 for 50 percent. Rebounds: 35 (Mitchell 9, Harris 6). Assists: 14 (Bass 3, Green 3). Steals: 9 (Mitchell 3, Harris 3). Blocked shots: 4 (Harris 2). Turnovers: 13 (Dotson 3, Spencer 3). Total fouls (fouled out): 17 (none).
FLORIDA (72) – Kenny Boynton 6-13 2-3 18, Chandler Parsons 3-6 4-4 11, Erving Walker 6-12 0-1 14, Alex Tyus 5-10 1-3 11, Vernon Macklin 6-9 2-5 14, Kyle McClanahan 0-0 0-0 0, Ray Shipman 0-1 1-2 1, Dan Werner 0-0 1-2 1, Erik Murphy 1-3 0-1 2, Hudson Fricke 0-0 0-0 0, Rod Tishman 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS 27-54 11-21 72.
Field-goal shooting: 27 of 54 for 50 percent. 3-point shooting: 7 of 17 for 41.2 percent. Free-throw shooting: 11 of 21 for 52.4 percent. Rebounds: 37 (Tyus 8, Macklin 8). Assists: 17 (Walker 6, Boynton 5). Steals: 7 (Walker 3, Tyus 2). Blocked shots: 4 (Tyus 3). Turnovers: 13 (Parsons 2, Tyus 2). Total fouls (fouled out): 10 (none).
Halftime: Florida 37, Louisiana State 30. Officials: Doug Sirmons, Gary Maxwell, Pat Adams. Records: Louisiana State 9-8, 0-3 SEC West; Florida 12-5, 1-2 SEC East. A—11,627.
For the latest standings, click below:
Saturday, Jan. 16
Florida 72, Louisiana State 58
Kentucky 72, Auburn 67
Tennessee 71, Mississippi 69, OT
Arkansas 71, Auburn 59
Mississippi State 72, Georgia 69
Vanderbilt 89, South Carolina 79
Tuesday, Jan. 19
Tennessee at Alabama, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Wednesday, Jan. 20
Auburn at Louisiana State, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
South Carolina at Mississippi, 9 p.m. (CSS)
Thursday, Jan. 21
Florida at Arkansas, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday, Jan. 23
South Carolina at Florida, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Mississippi State at Alabama, 12 p.m. (CBS)
Auburn at Vanderbilt, 12:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Mississippi at Louisiana State, 12:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Arkansas at Kentucky, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Tennessee at Georgia, 5 p.m. (FSN)
Tuesday, Jan. 26
Kentucky at South Carolina, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Wednesday, Jan. 27
Georgia at Florida, 7 p.m. (CSS)
Vanderbilt at Tennessee, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Louisiana State at Alabama, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Thursday, Jan. 28
Mississippi at Auburn, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
Mississippi State at Arkansas, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
Friday, Jan. 29
Saturday, Jan. 30
Louisiana State at Mississippi State, 12:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Alabama at Auburn, 3 p.m. (SEC Network)
Arkansas at Mississippi, 3 p.m. (SEC Network)
Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Georgia at South Carolina, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Sunday, Jan. 31
Florida at Tennessee, 1 p.m. (CBS)