The final 18:04 of Florida’s 67-54 win over the Southern University Jaguars was point guard by committee, something the Gators better get used to for at least their next game, Thursday night, against Middle Tennessee State. When Kasey Hill went down with what has been diagnosed as a high ankle sprain that Billy Donovan says could keep his star freshman out for a month, the Gators spent the rest of the game trying out replacements and though they were never really threatened by the Jaguars, there was a definite dropoff in productivity.
Florida spent the final 18 minutes of Monday’s game with DeVon Walker, Michael Frazier, Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter trying their hand at directing the team. Walker will probably start at the point against Middle Tennessee, but that’s not exactly a sure thing because Walker is far more comfortable operating on the wing although he was a high school point guard in Winter Haven before he went on a growth spurt. Frazier is a natural wing who tends to lose his ability to score when he’s the primary ball handler. With Damontre Harris suspended indefinitely and Will Yeguete still getting back into basketball shape after microfracture surgery on his knee back during the summer, Finney-Smith is necessary in the post although he’s such a good ball handler that he might end up being the best option.
“Maybe we could play really big with Dorian at the point and (Casey) Prather at the two, do something like that,” Donovan said. “We’re going to have to do some different things and run some different actions for different situations. That’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment for us.”
Carter is still slow recovering from a broken leg suffered last February when he was playing at Rutgers. Donovan made it pretty clear in his post game remarks that he would prefer for Carter to take a medical redshirt. Dillon Graham, who also has point guard skills, is opting for surgery to remove bone spurs in both hips, so he will redshirt as well.
Carter averaged nearly 15 a game last year at Rutgers where he played both the point and the wing, but Donovan doesn’t want to burn an entire season with no assurances that Carter will get back to 100% health.
“We definitely need him, but not at the expense of burning his year,” Donovan said. “That’s a real, real hard one for me to swallow as a coach when a guy’s playing on one leg. He’s probably going to see how much more he can do, but I had him at the point out there. He was out there at half-court. He almost lost the ball like three times. It looked like he couldn’t even plant and push off and he looked hobbled. So I feel bad for him. Selfishly, could we just use his body for five, six minutes to buy some time? Yes, but I don’t think as a junior in college and a kid who’s achieved and done what he’s done at Rutgers, I think we owe him the opportunity to get himself fully healthy and play again.”
Of course, the point guard dilemma should be solved if and when Scottie Wilbekin comes back from suspension but Donovan still hasn’t indicated when that will be.
“Not playing next game,” is all Donovan would say.
Against Southern, it was hit or miss once Hill departed. The Gators were able to build the lead up to 22 points (61-39) with 6:12 left in the game, thanks, in part, to timely shooting on the perimeter. The Gators got unexpected three-pointers from Walker and Will Yeguete – just the second of his Florida career – along with three-balls from Finney-Smith and Frazier.
But, the ball handling and passing weren’t crisp and the offense was stagnant too many times. That also contributed, Donovan thought, to the defense getting a bit sloppy.
“We fouled way too much, they shot too high of a percentage and I do think we got a little bit fractured there when Kasey went down,” Donovan said. “We had the lead up to 22 points. It was a little bit of a disaster on offense some possessions. Not anybody’s fault. Just the way it was.”
Practice on Tuesday and Wednesday will be spent finding the right combinations to run the offense. In all likelihood, it will be a point guard by committee approach unless Walker really adapts or perhaps Donovan rolls the dice a bit and goes with Finney-Smith.
“We’re going to have to probably have multiple guys handle the ball,” Donovan said. “I think we’ve got to be able to flow on offense, function, once we get into half court. And obviously the quick turnaround playing now and then having Tuesday and Wednesday and playing again Thursday, there’s going to be a lot we’re going to have to adjust to be functional a little bit better.”
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The first half was the Gators’ best defensive half of the season as they held Southern to 7-24 shooting from the field and 1-8 from the three-point line while taking a 35-19 lead into the locker at intermission.
Southern shot 50% from the field in the second half and battled the Gators evenly on the boards. The Gators sent the Jaguars to the foul line 17 times in the second half, something Donovan attributed to fatigue.
“I thought that we got a little bit lazy, a little bit careless and a little bit fatigued with all the fouls that we were committing,” Donovan said. “We were a step late, we didn’t rotate correctly. The first half we were great. I thought we did a great job.”
GAME NOTES: At the time Hill went down, he had eight points, three assists and a steal with no turnovers … Patric Young was Florida’s leading scorer with 12 points to go with six rebounds, joined in double figures by Prather and Walker with 10 each. Prather just missed a double-double, tying a career-high for rebounds with nine … Frazier went 3-7 from the three-point line to finish with nine points while Finney-Smith had eight points and seven rebounds.