Coming on the heels of three consecutive losses, the Florida Gators were in desperate need for the antidote to their abysmal shooting percentages from beyond the arc. The remedy, gift-wrapped as a late Christmas present, came in the form of dominating post play from Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin, freeing the outside shooters to pick and choose quality shots en route to a bounce-back 76-60 win over American University on Monday night in the O’Connell Center.
The Gators wasted no time putting their antidote to use, immediately going down low and feed the big men early and often. Tyus scored the game’s first seven points in a variety of ways, sinking a baseline jumper, finishing a fast break and finishing a three-point play on a short jump hook.
Florida immediately went to its other post weapon, as Macklin scored the next four points to give the Gators a quick 11-2 lead.
The early high-percentage shots paved the way for the Gators to get back into the win column.
“(The shot selection) was very important,” Macklin said. “We’ve been working on that the last couple of days of practice. Get the ball inside or drive. Coach has been talking a lot about getting the ball inside. I think we did a great job of that.”
Florida continued working the ball down low as the Eagles were unable to stop the one-two post punch of Tyus, who scored 20 points to go along with nine rebounds, and Macklin, who added 18 points and five rebounds of his own. The steady play down low took the pressure off the outside shooters, who only took 15 shots from long range.
“I thought our threes were good threes, all of them,” Coach Billy Donovan said. “We didn’t take a lot of them. Our guys did a great job executing offense and showing a level of patience.”
Kenny Boynton led the way from downtown as he was finally able to find his touch from three-point land. Boynton, who is shooting a .253 three-point percentage on the season, hit four of the six Gator threes in the game, dropping 19 points (4-7 from three) on the Eagles.
“Finally,” Boynton said of his three-point shots starting to fall. “Coach and I worked on my shot before the game. I’m just trying to get extra shooting in now, just to get (my shot) back to normal.”
It was only a matter of time before Boynton’s threes began to fall and it was clear that he finally found his groove when a 35-footer at the end of the first half banked in to cap off a 9-1 run in the last 1:15 of the first half, giving Florida a 39-18 lead going into the break.
Boynton’s runner capped off a run that he started with a fast break dunk that ignited the offense, as Macklin followed Boynton’s slam with a throwdown of his own to energize the Gators. Macklin had several monstrous jams in the game, along with a few near misses that seemed like he was trying too hard to bring the house down. His jams, coupled with a few hook shots around the basket, showed his capability of working around the basket. Donovan said he still wants to see more activity from Macklin around the basket but was certainly impressed with some of the offensive skills that he showed.
“People look at Vernon and they saw him offensively get a few powerful, strong dunks,” Donovan said. “He finished some jump hooks around the basket. He really looked offensively to be very effective.”
Donovan noted that Macklin may not be able to dominate as effortlessly around the basket once he starts banging with the big bodies of the SEC, but he feels that Macklin’s performance had a few bright spots that will help build his game as he continues to establish himself after sitting out as a transfer.
“Vernon’s a guy that I think it’s great when he can get his tank filled up with positive things,” Donovan said. “Anytime you transfer, you’re not playing a lot at the place. It’s human nature to second-guess or doubt. Any time positive things happen to Vernon, it’s good for him.”
The strong low post play was especially important on a night when the Gators were a little short-handed, as Ray Shipman and Kenny Kadji did not dress for the game. Shipman sat out after suffering a knee injury against South Alabama. Kadji sat out with a back injury. Shipman is considered questionable for Wednesday’s game against Presbyterian, but he walked out of the locker room after the game saying that he expected to play Wednesday.
Although the Gators felt the pressure of playing with a shorter bench, some good may have come out of the injuries. Donovan turned to walk-on Kyle McClanahan for 13 minutes against American. Although McClanahan didn’t light up the box score, adding only a rebound and a steal, he showed the hustle and composure that Donovan likes to see from his players.
“Here’s a guy who has not played at all really in crucial situations,” Donovan said. “Sometimes when you put a guy into a game like that you’re just trying to give a guy a breather and not trying to lose a lead. Kyle, when he got into the game, I thought made our team better. It’s a situation where maybe Kyle, because of some injuries, works his way into the lineup, where we can get him a little bit more minutes. He certainly didn’t show any signs of being nervous or concerned or worried. I thought he made some really good plays.”
McClanahan may also find some time in a backcourt rotation where Donovan hopes to get Erving Walker some more rest going forward to maximize his impact on the game. Walker did not have his best shooting night, as he scored seven points on 3-9 shooting, including a missed layup near the end of the game. But Walker did run the offense efficiently, dishing out six assists to only one turnover.
“I think Erving’s one of those guys where I think sometimes he plays too many minutes and he’s not as effective,” Donovan said. “Sometimes when he’s a little bit tired he puts our defense as a team in a pretty tough spot. It’s not his fault. I need to be more conscientious of it myself as a coach. He still played 29 minutes, but what I was really trying to do was take him out more often and give him a little more quicker rests and get him back in there. His minutes were a little bit down than what they have been lately, but I think that’s a good thing rather than a bad thing.”
Although the Gators had a solid offensive performance, their three-point defense fell apart in the second half as American made the score closer than it really was. American shot 8-16 from three-point range in the second half and came within nine near the end. But Florida’s offense built a big enough lead that the game was never in question. The most important thing for Donovan was not only getting the team back on the winning track but also being able to take away that important lesson going forward.
“I’m happy for the win and happy that we could still come out of this and learn,” Donovan said.
Donovan talks about Urban Meyer’s leave of absence
After Monday’s game, Donovan related to his close friend Meyer’s decision to take a leave of absence following the Sugar Bowl, saying that he has not yet spoken to Meyer, but he understands how strong the pressures of coaching can get and how much they can wear on a coach.
“When you’re committed to something and in that commitment, you could be doing it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Donovan said. “It is very hard to balance. It’s nearly impossible to balance.”
Donovan said that that impossible balance not only weighs on the family responsibilities but also responsibilities to the coach’s own health.
“You’re put in a position every day to make a decision between your wife, your kids, your job, and when you spend time with one of them, you worry that you’re neglecting the other one. It is an incredible emotional drain.
“There’s one way to be successful and you go out and do it every single day. Sometimes when you go about doing it that way isn’t the healthiest or the safest way, but you know it’s the way it works. But there’s a price, a big price that comes with that.”
Donovan says he is looking forward to speaking with Meyer and says that the most important thing to him is knowing that his friend is doing OK.
FLORIDA 76, AMERICAN 60
At Gainesville, Fla., O’Connell Center
AMERICAN (60) – Riley Grafft 2-3 3-4 7, Vlad Moldoveanu 5-9 0-0 14, Simon McCormack 0-0 0-0 0, Blake Jolivette 3-8 0-0 8, Nick Henden 4-11 5-7 15, Matthew Wilson 0-2 0-2 0, Daniel Munoz 1-4 0-0 2, Daniel Fisher 1-1 1-2 3, Steve Luptak 0-1 0-0 0, Joe Hill 2-5 0-0 6, Stephen Lumpkins 1-5 3-4 5, Mike Bersch 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS 19-49 12-19 60.
Shooting: 19-49 for 38.8 percent. 3-point shooting: 10-24 for 41.7 percent (Moldoveanu 4-6, Jolivette 2-3, Hill 2-5, Hendra 2-7, Munoz 0-3). Rebounds: 37 (Hendra 13, Lumpkins 5). Assists: 15 (Moldoveanu 4, Jolivette 3). Steals: 4 (Grafft 2). Blocked shots: 4 (Lumpkins 2). Turnovers: 18 (Hendra 5). Total fouls (fouled out): 21 (none).
FLORIDA (76) – Dan Werner 1-6 0-1 2, Alex Tyus 6-13 8-11 20, Vernon Macklin 8-14 2-3 18, Kenny Boynton 7-15 1-2 19, Erving Walker 3-9 0-1 7, Kyle McClanahan 0-1 0-0 0, Chandler Parsons 2-2 3-4 8, Erik Murphy 1-2 0-0 2. TOTALS 28-62 14-22 76.
Shooting: 28-62 for 45.2 percent. 3-point shooting: 6-15 for 40 percent (Boynton 4-7, Parsons 1-1, Walker 1-3, McClanahan 0-1, Werner 0-3). Rebounds: 36 (Tyus 9, Parsons 6, Boynton 6). Assists: 15 (Walker 6, Boynton 4). Steals: 12 (Murphy 3, Werner 3). Blocked shots: 2 (Murphy, Macklin). Turnovers: 8 (Boynton 2, Parsons 2). Total fouls (fouled out): 15 (none).
Halftime: Florida 39, American 18. Officials: Mike Stuart, Rick Hartzell, Tracy Woodson. Records: American 2-11, Florida 9-3. A-10,275.
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