Reserves pick up slack as Gators roll, 79-38

The Florida Gators men’s basketball bench is beginning to resemble a hospital ward as the injury list grows each day. The healthy Gators, however, had no trouble scoring a 79-38 victory over Presbyterian College in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Wednesday night.

The Gators were already short-handed with Ray Shipman and Kenny Kadji dressed in street clothes for the game. Then Florida’s depth shrunk even further when Vernon Macklin could play only limited minutes after coming down with a minor illness before the game.

“He just said he didn’t feel good,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I talked to him in the first half and he said he didn’t feel good and he had cramps and his stomach’s upset. He just didn’t have his normal energy and bounce. He said to me in the second half, ‘Coach, if you need me I’ll play. I just really don’t feel that good.’ We had a comfortable lead … it was a game we could get by without him.”

Macklin put up four points and five rebounds in only 14 minutes of play, but when he went to the bench freshman forward Erik Murphy, still recovering from a shoulder injury, helped pick up the slack. Murphy played relentless around the basket on both ends of the floor, getting his first career double-double, putting up 16 points to go along with 11 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass.

“I got my confidence up, especially after the injury,” Murphy said. “Coming back off that I got my timing back. That was my first real big game, so it felt good. It’s about 90 percent right now. It’s almost 100 percent. It’s feeling a lot better than it was.”

Murphy teamed up with Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons to dominate the undersized Presbyterian front line, out-rebounding the Blue Hose 51-29, including a 23-5 edge on the offensive glass. The Gators also outscored Presbyterian in the paint 46-12.

The aggressive interior play is something Donovan hopes continues as the schedule gets tougher in the coming weeks.

“We’re playing against an undersized team, so maybe it doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Donovan said. “But the fact that our guys did make the effort to go to the backboard was a positive.”

Tyus also added a double-double of his own, his second of the season, notching 16 points and 13 rebounds. Tyus also made several electrifying plays, finishing an alley-oop on the fast break from Erving Walker in the first half and swatting a shot into the stands in the second half.

When Tyus went to the bench after logging 20 minutes in the game, Parsons picked up the slack in the excitement department, doing a little bit of everything to keep the crowd interested as the game got out of hand. Parsons put up a season-high 21 points, including 15 in the second half, to go along with eight rebounds, four steals, a block and an assist.

Parsons worked the Presbyterian defense on the interior and from downtown, knocking down two 3s and constantly attacking the rim. On one play, Parsons watched a miss bounce off the rim as he slashed through the lane and rose over the defender to throw down the follow-up. He followed that later by taking the ball coast-to-coast for another dunk. It was a solid bounce-back performance for Parsons after only taking two shots against American on Monday.

“This was a good thing from Chandler for me to see because I thought in the American game—his freshman year this probably would have really bothered him—he didn’t get a lot of opportunities to score,” Donovan said. “Tonight he was aggressive without forcing things.”

While the frontcourt picked up the slack with Macklin under the weather, Donovan also handed out some quality minutes to his entire backcourt. Kyle McClanahan played significant minutes for the second consecutive game, while Rod Tishman and Hudson Fricke also saw some action as the game was winding down.

The reserves might have to see some minutes in the next few games as the team expects to be very cautious with Shipman until he is completely healthy. Donovan is unsure if Shipman will play on Sunday, but from the way Donovan puts it, he will be joining Kadji on the bench in street clothes once again.

“He slipped his knee cap,” Donovan said. “He slipped his patella and had some swelling on the outside. He’s got a pretty significant bruise on his knee and some swelling inside of his knee. They’re worried if he goes back too soon and tweaks it again or bends it again, it could really set him back. It’s probably an injury that we’re going to be overcautious with to try to get him back where we feel like he’s out of any danger zone.”

With Donovan emptying his bench, it was clear that the regulars wanted to see those guys put some numbers up on the box score, especially Parsons, who continued feeding McClanahan to try to get him a good look. They finally connected on an inbounds pass as McClanahan was fouled going up for a layup. He sank one of two free throws for his first points of the season.

“Those guys work just as hard as we do in practice, especially Kyle,” Parsons said. “That guy’s great. Just that he gets a chance to play right now is really making me happy. It’s going to take everybody for us to be good this year. Everyone stepped up today.”

The Gators also got to see what Tishman could do on the offensive end, as he made a few nice assists, including a behind the back feed to Murphy off a rebound that showcased the kind of vision Tishman possesses.

“Rod has some great vision, but you just haven’t seen it a lot,” Murphy said. “He’s a real good passer. He just found me. That was my first dunk, so it felt good. A behind-the-back pass and a dunk is a nice little play.”

Tishman showed why the Gators recruited him with his passing ability, but it may be a little while before he gets to see some significant playing time as his defensive skills aren’t quite on the same level at this point.

“I think Rod’s biggest challenge is on the defensive end of the floor,” Donovan said. “The difference with (McClanahan) is that he moves his feet very well. He’s good with the press. I think those are just things Rod’s got to get adjusted to playing here in the United States. His issue with me has never been on the offensive end of the floor, it’s always been where he’s at defensively.”

As a team, the Gators defense showed some good signs of getting back to focusing on shutting down the opposing team’s three-point shooting. Florida’s 3-point defense, along with poor outside shooting, was its downfall in losses to Richmond and South Alabama. Richmond came back to defeat Florida by shooting 41.7 percent from long-range in the second half, while South Alabama used 63.6 percent shooting from downtown to put them in position to squeak by at the end. Even the second half against American, which went 8-16 from beyond the 3-point line in the half, left Donovan scratching his head.

“That was the emphasis,” Parsons said. “Coach writes it on the board every day in black, and he wrote 3-point line in red. Going into the game we knew we had to shut that down.”

The Gators certainly followed the game plan, as they held Presbyterian to 20 percent shooting from 3-point range.

Florida regained its defensive focus just in time, while also getting a long look at some of its reserves, because the road only gets tougher from here. The Gators visit North Carolina State on Sunday at 3 p.m. before jumping into the SEC schedule.