After 10 days away from the basketball court, Florida looked to come out rejuvenated Tuesday. But the 40 minutes of action at the O’Connell Center was marked with issues similar to the ones that have plagued the Gators.
The Gators struggled in claiming a 71-63 win over Mercer, and coach Mike White could only watch as a 16-point lead with five minutes to play quickly became a two-possession game down the stretch. White again lamented the team’s inconsistency against an inexperienced Mercer team that replaced eight seniors from last season’s squad.
“Really poor finish. Didn’t defend at the same level we’ve defended at all year,” White said. “I thought we were a little step slow to the basketball. I thought we were a little heavy-legged offensively. Watched the clock the last five minutes, just waiting for it to run out.”
Mercer’s two-three zone forced Florida to 33 three-point attempts, of which the Gators (6-4) converted 12. Freshman guard Noah Locke led UF with a team-high 18 points, including 11 in the first half as the Gators built a six-point lead at the midway point, and Kevaughn Allen, relegated to a bench role in favor of Jalen Hudson, provided 15 points in 31 minutes of action. White praised the team’s ability to consistently create open shots — it was the subpar execution that seemed to frustrate he fourth-year UF coach.
“I thought we had as good of looks tonight as we’ve had this year,” White said. “I thought we played with more poise that way. I don’t think we played quite as much to our strengths as I’d like to see.”
The Gators appeared well on their way to a double-digit win, taking a 60-44 lead with 5:18 to play, but the Bears (4-7) weren’t going away without a fight. Mercer would go on a 10-point run over the ensuing 3:56 to make it a two-possession game, but four free throws apiece from Allen and freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard helped Florida secure the win.
“We need to start challenging (Noah) and Andrew to lead more,” White said. “We don’t have enough of it on the roster.”
White said the defensive effort and attention to detail were still not up to a satisfactory level. A dominant conclusion to the game wouldn’t have erased what White deemed to be another inconsistent performance against a seemingly inferior team.
“I thought Noah was very consistent tonight, I thought so was Kevarrius Hayes,” White said. “I don’t mean to sound really down on our guys’ effort. I think our team plays very hard, comparatively speaking. Coming in to the game, we’re sixth in the country in defensive efficiency. I bring that up because I’m so negative in other areas.
“Why do I harp on it more than I do with other teams? Because we haven’t had a team struggle to score this much.”
White admitted the unsatisfactory results during the critical early stretch of the schedule have led to a higher intensity level in practice, and Tuesday’s contest with the Bears may have featured a languid Gators squad. With just three days until they take the court in Sunrise for the Orange Bowl Classic against Florida Gulf Coast, White is hoping the quick turnaround leads to better execution come Saturday.
“We were very demanding on them, physically and mentally. We wore them out for 10 days. And I think you could see a couple side effects for that. I don’t want to give my guys excuses ever, but that’s just reality,” White said. “I know it’s hard to defend, but we’ve got to be better than that to compete with high-level teams on our schedule.”
|FLORIDA 71, MERCER 63|
Kilby 2-5 0-1 4, Cummings 5-19 4-4 18, Stair 3-12 2-2 8, Stowe 4-8 4-6 13, Cohen 5-7 0-1 10, Aimaq 2-2 0-1 4, Baffuto 0-0 0-0 0, Dimitrijevic 2-4 0-0 6, Peavy 0-0 0-0 0, Love 0-0 0-0 0, Williamson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-57 10-15 63.
Stone 3-6 1-1 9, Hayes 4-5 0-0 8, Hudson 1-7 0-0 2, Locke 6-13 1-3 18, Nembhard 2-7 4-4 10, Stokes 2-3 0-0 4, K.Johnson 2-6 1-3 5, Okauru 0-1 0-0 0, Fava 0-0 0-0 0, Allen 4-9 4-4 15. Totals 24-57 11-15 71.
Halftime_Florida 34-28. 3-Point Goals_Mercer 7-23 (Cummings 4-12, Dimitrijevic 2-4, Stowe 1-1, Kilby 0-2, Stair 0-4), Florida 12-33 (Locke 5-11, Allen 3-6, Stone 2-4, Nembhard 2-5, Okauru 0-1, Stokes 0-1, K.Johnson 0-1, Hudson 0-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Mercer 30 (Stowe 11), Florida 34 (Hayes 11). Assists_Mercer 8 (Cummings, Kilby 3), Florida 16 (Nembhard 6). Total Fouls_Mercer 18, Florida 13.
What: Orange Bowl Basketball Classic
Who: Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV: FS2, Fox Sports Sun
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850