For the first half of Friday’s game against the Seminoles, things looked dire for the Florida Gators. Florida State entered the game 0-3 with regrettable losses to Stetson, UCF, and Troy, and the Gators were considered heavy favorites who couldn’t afford another upset loss after just taking one to Florida Atlantic previously. When the buzzer to end the first frame sounded, the Gators had their backs against the wall. Florida State led 43-26 and the Gators didn’t feel like they had their footing on either side of the ball.
Instead of laying down and dying, the Gators came out in the second half and punched back, getting stops on the defensive end and pouring in points on the other and before you knew it the Seminoles’ lead evaporated and it was a brand new ball game with the Gators finishing on top 76-67.
What exactly fueled the comeback? Let’s get into the numbers and situation of how the Gators stormed back to avoid a loss they couldn’t take and instead get a huge road win over a key rival.
Immediately what jumped out about the Gators’ second half game plan was the personnel change. Florida has had the same starting group each game this season, and that same group has also started the second frame of games. That is:
However, this time they didn’t roll out that same starting group, they subbed in point guard Trey Bonham in place of Kowacie Reeves.
Ultimately, Reeves wouldn’t see the floor in the second half of the game. In the first half he played 9 minutes and was 1-4 from the field, with a few of his misses coming from shots that the coaching staff was unhappy with. Shot selection has been a large element of what the coaching staff has been preaching recently, so they likely felt it was time to put some actions behind their words.
Interestingly enough, the player they chose to start the second half with in place of Kowacie Reeves was Trey Bonham, which seemed notable because he was only given 3 minutes and 2 minutes in Florida’s previous games against Florida Atlantic and Kennesaw State. If you knew that Reeves was going to be pulled you would likely think that it would be Myreon Jones, Riley Kugel, or Niels Lane getting into the game to keep some semblance of size on the floor against a physical Florida State team, but that wasn’t the case.
This was likely because Florida’s staff recognized that in the first half the Gators simply weren’t creating enough offense off the bounce and they needed a spark plug in that area. Enter Trey Bonham, an electric ball guard who has struggled early in his time at Florida with turnovers but has proven he can create space and get to his shot or draw fouls and get to the line.
Ultimately, Bonham in that lineup was exactly what the doctor ordered and before you knew it the Gators were not only back in the ballgame but holding on to a multiple-possession lead that they took right to the final buzzer.
Let’s take a look at the numbers behind what the lineup of Lofton, Bonham, Richard, Felder, and Castleton was able to accomplish.
To begin, they were +16 between 20:00 and 14:35 on the clock, essentially erasing Florida State’s mammoth lead in just over five minutes.
Offensively this lineup scored 1.8 points per possession, while only allowing 0.3 points per possession defensively. That 1.5 points per possession differential is otherworldly, and that’s what leads to a massive lead being erased in a matter of minutes.
Bonham in the game next to Lofton meant much more shot creation, and suddenly the Gators were getting the Seminoles in rotation where they could find the open shooter or dump it in to Castleton for an easy one on the inside. This lineup had an effective field goal percentage of 57%, which felt like an oasis after the scoring desert that was the first half.
Defensively, this lineup was a bit quicker to the ball and played with aggression and urgency, which resulted in the Seminoles turning the ball over on an astonishing 48% of their possessions, or 6 times total in just over 5 minutes. Not only did that take away the Seminoles opportunity to score, but it meant an easy fast break opportunity for the Gators. When they did get a shot on the rim it was heavily contested by the Gators, leading to the Seminoles having an effective field goal percentage of only 17% during this stretch.
The addition of Bonham to this lineup had a boost that some wouldn’t have expected if they hadn’t seen him play much before coming to Florida. You see, despite the fact that Bonham is almost always the smallest player on the court, he’s a bulldog on the defensive glass who has always been an outstanding rebounder. That was the case once again as he dug down into the paint and came away with 7 defensive rebounds, leading the Gators. Overall Florida dominated the glass in this key stretch, grabbing 75% of available offensive rebounds (of which there weren’t many, as Florida was scoring so much on their first attempt) while grabbing 80% of the defensive rebounds.
To summarize, this lineup was able to do just about everything right. They scored at a high rate, they defended at a high rate, and they controlled the glass on both ends.
At this point it’s worth pointing out that this was the first time that this group of five players have played together this season. Entering Friday’s game Bonham had only played 20 minutes total, largely with lineups made up of primarily bench players, and he matched that total by playing 20 minutes against the Seminoles and finishing with 11 points, 3 assists, and 7 rebounds. It’s likely that Bonham has earned more of a role after this performance, and deservedly so.
Bonham currently leads the Gators in net rating differential (the net rating of the team when a player is on the floor versus off the floor) and while it’s early in the season and the sample size is small when he has been on the court with quality teammates good things have happened.
Of course, Bonham isn’t the only player to deserve credit as the rest of the players on the floor for that shift, as well as Alex Fudge who had a nice shift to follow up what this first group was doing, but if we’re looking for what fueled the comeback for the Gators it’s clear to see that it was a rather large personnel decision that took a player who functionally didn’t play in the two previous games in Bonham and not only put him on the floor in a key situation, but also put the ball in his hands.
This season is still extremely young and it’s a group of players that largely hasn’t played together so lineups and player combinations are still being worked out, but efforts like this comeback are something that will stick out in the coaches minds as they continue to carve out the rotation.