The Florida Gators (8-3) beat the Jacksonville University Dolphins by 24 points, out-rebounded JU 44-to-34, shot 52.5% from the field and held the Dolphins to just 35.9% shooting but on the eve of Festivus all the Gators could talk about was “Christmas-itis.”
“I just thought we had Christmas-itis and that’s all we talked about the last 72 hours. It’s just disappointing from that standpoint,” head coach Mike White said. “Every time you’re between the lines the goal is to get a little bit better, to take a step in the right direction. If we want to be average then we accomplished that tonight. If we want to be a really good team we didn’t take a positive step tonight.”
Florida opened up the game flat, allowing JU — a team on the second night of a back-to-back — to hang around in the first half. Florida didn’t have any trouble scoring, specifically down in the paint where they scored a season-high 48 points, but their lackluster effort on the defensive end allowed Jacksonville to stay in the game.
“I was pleased with our physical, mental effort. Defensively I thought the first half was our worst defensive half of the year, just to be honest,” said White after the game. “We did some things offensively, John [Egbunu] finished against guys who were significantly smaller than him.”
Despite a lackluster effort the Gators went into halftime with 39-31 lead, held JU to 39% shooting (12-31) from the field. Florida had more points in the paint, second chance points, rebounds and had forced more turnovers but a message had to be sent.
Dorian Finney Smith and Devin Robinson, who finished with 13 and 12 points respectively, were given that lesson coming out of the locker room.
“[Coach White] went at us at half time, saying we weren’t playing hard enough and we weren’t defending,” Robinson said. “So we’re going to sit and watch the game until we can prove to him that we can play.”
Finney-Smith, a senior, did just that. Florida went on a 14-0 run in the second half with 10 of those points coming from Finney-Smith. Florida locked down defensively in the second period, responding loud a clear to the message that the coaching staff sent at halftime. Finney-Smith, a senior, knows that he needs to take it upon himself when it comes to getting a group of young players focused.
“We have to be more mature as a team. That starts with me,” Finney-Smith said. “I’ve been in this situation before. The game before Christmas break, I knew it was going to be tough because guys are thinking about going home — we don’t get home that much — but I should’ve motivated my team and myself.”
It’s still early in the season. The team is still adjusting to a new coaching staff and a new nucleus of players but time doesn’t stop for anybody and Florida State and the conference schedule await the Gators.
Every time you step in between the lines, the goal is to take another step forward in the right direction. If we want to be average, then we accomplished that night,” White said. “If we want to be a really good team, we didn’t take a positive step tonight.”
Freshman KeVaughn Allen led all Gator scorers with 15 points, a career-high for the guard from Arkansas.
The Gators shot better than 50 percent from the field for the second time this season.
Walk-on guard Zach Hodskins, born without the lower portion of his left arm, scored the first points of his collegiate career. Hodskins took his man off the dribble, spun into the lane and floated a ball into the basket, collecting a foul on the way.