As the song lyric says, “there may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Looking back on the Florida Gators basketball team’s 58-52 loss to No. 1 Michigan State on Saturday night, it would be easy to become downtrodden in the Gators falling to 6-3. But alas, there is joy that can be taken from this game, and all apart of many things we learned in the Gators East Lansing matchup. So on this morning, we look back and find the joy…and some bad, because hey, it was still a loss.
Kasey Hill Needs Fire
The junior guard watched tip off from the bench for the first time this season. Head coach Mike White has been riding with the duo of Hill and freshman KeVaughn Allen as his first guards on the floor, but on Tuesday night it was sophomore Chris Chiozza and redshirt freshman Brandone Francis-Ramirez who got the call to start.
When Hill did check in at the 15:20 mark, it was with an energy that propelled his famous speed up and down the court for 28 minutes.
By the time the night was over Hill had gone 5-11 plus 3-8 from the line for a total of 13 points; he added to his stat line with six rebounds (five defensive) and four steals. It was his best overall game of the season so far.
Maybe it was coincidence, maybe it was a fluke, or maybe it was because Pluto had come into alignment with Mars. But the fact of the matter is the first game of the season with Hill coming off the bench instead of starting was Hill’s best game of the season in the box score and in hustle. Some people just need a fire lit under them to get moving. It seems Kasey Hill is one of those people.
And here’s the kicker…Hill asked to be benched. He confirmed to Kevin Brockway following the game that he has asked out of the starting lineup because he thought it was better for the team. Head coach Mike White said “I don’t think I’ve seen that in 16 years of coaching.”
More importantly though was what White and fans saw out of Hill following the self imposed punishment. Now, this just needs to be seen throughout the rest of the season.
Gators Can Grow From Defense
The past two games—albeit losses—have seen the Florida Gators basketball defense hold their respective opponents to their lowest score of the season thus far.
White and company have stated over and over that they want their defense to create their offense and ideally defense will control the game. So far, they’ve done that. The trick now is having the offense catch up because with the defense keeping up this pace of stifling play and the dirty work and holding teams to so few points, it won’t take much more offense to balance it out.
This was incredibly evident during the Gators game against the Spartans when a team that had been averaging 81 points was only able to put up 58 against Florida.
As one player told ESPN after the game, “it was tough man, they were physical. They threw different defenses at us. Switch 1-4. They were just really physical and tough and they were a tough team tonight.”
Hustle and Bustle
As cliché as it sounds, there was a noticeable energy that surrounded this Florida Gators basketball team on Saturday that hasn’t necessarily been there on other nights. Hustle sent the guys on fast-break opportunities and kept them crashing the boards all night. At one point around the 8-minute mark in the second half, Florida grabbed four offensive rebounds before Devin Robinson got a jumper to give the Gators a 47-46 lead. On one hand, there’s the scary thought of “it took four chances to get a shot to fall?!” but remember, we’re looking at the joy in this situation and the joy here is that they fought through to grab four offensive rebounds.
For a team that has seesawed between playing one full half or the other, they finally put together a game in which they competed for the near 40 minutes; not quite the full 40 though, and that is the bad that must be addressed.
A consistent theme so far this season has been this Gators team issue of playing one half well and with energy, while falling flat in the other half. As to which half is which has changed with different games, but the issue has stayed the same. On Saturday night in East Lansing, it looked like Florida was finally going to put together a full game and do so at the most crucial time—facing the No. 1 team in the country.
Then when there were about 4 and half minutes left—4:24 to be exact—it happened. They deflated. MSU took over and Florida got sloppy. There were three turnovers within three minutes—and sloppy, pointless turnovers at that—and in the last 5:40 of the game, the Spartans held Florida to one field goal shot.
In this we see where this team can still grow. Save Dorian Finney-Smith, it was a fairly young lineup that took the floor versus Michigan State, and with the schedule still short of ten games, the youth is a fairly understandable downfall of this team. But as the season progresses, they will have to grow and quickly. This was a great non-conference matchup to test against, but when SEC play starts, youth is not an excuse; especially against a Kentucky team that is consistently made up of the youngest guys in college basketball.
In addition to the youth, and quite possible because of it, this Florida team must learn how to finish and play a complete game. This was a six-point loss, and at that 5:40 mark when the drought started it was only a two-point game so that time could have easily swung the game back in that Gators favor. The lesson now is to keep up that energy and finish even stronger than they started.
There are many positives that Mike White and his team can take from this game. Just find joy in the morning, learn from the sorrow and move forward by putting it all together. The Florida Gators basketball team will get their shot to do this on December 19 when they face Oklahoma State in Sunrise, Florida. Tip off is set for 8pm on Fox Sports 1, and stay tuned to GatorCountry.com for complete coverage!