Corey Brewer’s line in the box score from Florida’s 86-40 win over the University of North Florida Tuesday night reads 1-4 from the field, one rebound, two assists, one blocked shot and three steals in 18 minutes of play. From a statistical standpoint, you would think he had a bad game. If you watched him play defense, however, you know better.
The stats can’t begin to tell how Brewer impacted the game but two plays, 26 seconds apart, in the first four minutes of the second half say everything that needs to be said. Operating on the point in Florida’s zone press, Brewer almost single-handedly forced two consecutive 10-second violations with his relentless on the ball defense.
“Corey embodies everything that I believe in as a coach,” said Donovan. “Tonight he was 1-4. You look at the stat line and you say ‘What happened to Brewer. He didn’t play too well.’ Unless you were at the game you didn’t realize what kind of impact he had. How many guys do you ever see get a 10-second count basically by themselves in the front of the press? He got it two times in a row.”
Those two plays highlighted a night in which the Gators forced 26 North Florida turnovers and a miserable shooting night from the field. The Ospreys connected on 14 of 45 shots from the field (31.1 percent), not the kind of night they needed to at least provide some sort of competition for the top-ranked Gators, who improved to 2-0 on the season.
What made Brewer’s game so special to Donovan was the level of unselfishness he saw from the 6-9 junior small forward.
“Here’s a kid, a great talent, a great player and he’s not one bit consumed or concerned with stats,” said Donovan. “Here he gets two points, two assists, one turnover, plays 18 minutes and has three steals and has a huge impact on the game.”
Not that the game was ever in doubt.
Typically, there is more competition at one of Coach Billy Donovan’s practice sessions than North Florida provided. The Gators shot 53.7 percent from the field, outrebounded the Ospreys 38-31, blocked seven shots and stole the ball 12 times. The Gators accounted for 21 assists and turned the ball over just seven times, their third straight game dating back to April’s NCAA championship game win over UCLA that they have finished with fewer than 10 turnovers in a game.
If the game provided anything, it was a chance for Donovan’s veterans to go against someone different than the same faces they see in practice every day. For the four freshmen, it was a chance to get a little bit more experience in a game that counts.
The Ospreys didn’t have any answers for Florida’s tall 1-2 inside punch of Al Horford and Joakim Noah, who combined for 32 points, 21 rebounds, five assists, five blocked shots and two steals. Horford (17 points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots, three assists and a steal) and Noah (15 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, one blocked shot and a steal) were too tall, too strong and too athletic. It took them about three minutes to establish themselves on the inside and from that point on, about all the Ospreys could hope for was an open shot from the outside.
“Al gets 11 rebounds and he got seven offensive rebounds,” said Donovan. “You have to be somewhat realistic. There was nobody in the front court on their team that had the size and physicality. I think the one thing that happened to Al, knowing Al, is that Noah grabbed 15 rebounds in the first game and he grabbed four. I think there was a level of focus about going to the backboard and grab rebounds. When you have both your front court players with double-doubles, that’s good.
But while Noah and Horford clogged the paint, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey swarmed the perimeter so open shots were few and far between. Only Rashad Williams, who had 21 points (8-16 from the field, 5-6 from the foul line), was able to score with any consistency for North Florida.
It didn’t matter that the Gators didn’t hit a three-pointer until Green knocked one down with 50.4 seconds left in the half. It didn’t matter that the Gators struggled from beyond the arc, hitting just 4-16 for the game. It didn’t matter that Florida shot just 50 percent (10-20) from the foul line for the game (7-16 in the first half). Florida was just too big and too strong and had too many better players.
The missed free throws were pretty much the only disappointment for Donovan
“I don’t remember ever in my 10-plus years having a half like that shooting the basketball the way we did from the free throw line,” said Donovan. “Jo ended up going 3-9 and the rest of our team didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from the free throw line. We left so many points out there. When you get to the free throws line and you don’t make free throws it’s almost like a turnover. You’re running offense, you get fouled and you get an opportunity to make two shots, then you come away with nothing. It’s almost like a wasted possession.”
The game was pretty much over by the time Horford scored on a stick back after a Green miss with 18:21 remaining in the first half. That broke a 2-2 tie and it was the last time the score was close.
It was 38-20 at the half. Florida got its first 30-point lead when Green hit a three with 12:46 remaining in the game and the first 40-point lead when Noah dropped in a couple of free throws with 9:42 left in the game to make it 68-28.
In the final six minutes of the game, Florida’s freshmen got a chance to run up and down the floor with Marreese Speights showing up big with eight points, four rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot. Freshman Dan Werner got the first four points of his collegiate career, Jonathan Mitchell scored three points and Brandon Powell got in five solid minutes, playing strong defense in the press and on the perimeter.
“As disappointed as I was with the way our freshmen played opening night — maybe it was the first game jitters for them — I thought that when they got in there they did a pretty good job,” said Donovan.
Donovan was concerned in the opening night win over Samford because the freshmen allowed Samford to close the game on a 10-2 run. In practice Saturday and again on Monday, he worked the young guys over and got their attention.
“I was really all over the freshmen since Friday,” said Donovan. “We played about as well as we could play opening night against Samford and their system (79-54 Florida win). To close the game, Samford went on a 10-2 run and it was against our young guys.
“I confronted those guys about that. Saturday’s practice and Monday’s practice, I’ve been all over those guys in terms of what to expect and how hard they have to play and compete.”
Donovan wants his freshmen to bring energy and inspiration off the bench. He didn’t see that Friday night but he saw it against North Florida.
“Tonight they did that,” he said. “They did some good things, they were on edge and they were focused. I felt they defended very well for the time they were in there and they did a really good job.”
Green and Humphrey each contributed 12 points and three assists in the game. Humphrey, held without a three-pointer against Samford, was 2-6 from the three-point line, but he was 2-4 in the second half.
The Gators face Jacksonville University at the O’Connell Center Thursday night (7 p.m. start).