Despite the early success from long-range, it was Florida’s lack of a legitimate frontcourt that was on full display in Saturday’s 78-67 loss to No. 3 Tennessee.
The Gators threatened and would lead several times throughout the night, but the Volunteers had an answer each and every time: dump it down low.
While Florida’s weapon of choice was the 3-pointer — in the first half, at least — Tennessee was making the Gators pay in the paint. The Vols finished with 34 points in the paint, as the Gators mustered just 12 such points under the basket, and Florida only took six two-point field goals in the first half as opposed 19 attempts from beyond the arc.
Florida was aware of the disadvantage coming into the game, and coach Mike White opted once again to run four guards out on the floor, replacing senior Jalen Hudson with the struggling Keith Stone.
Ultimately, neither player would make a serious impact — Hudson and Stone combined for just six points on 1-for-11 shooting, as the Gators struggled to score inside against the Vols.
In fact, it was 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore Dontay Bassett who would make the most significant impact at the “four” for the Gators — but, with the result in the rear view, White harped on Florida’s lack of a legitimate power forward.
“We really only have one true four in our program, and that’s Keith Stone. And (former Gator) Chase Johnson was recruited to play the four. Jalen Hudson, he’s a two-guard and Dontay Bassett’s a five,” White said. “We’ve got to get better at that spot. Our fours are sitting behind that arc a bunch as we struggle to score on the interior.”
The Gators wouldn’t score a field goal for the final 3:35 of the second half, and UF’s lack of an offensive threat in the frontcourt resulted in the offense routinely settling for contested shots from long-distance.
Freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard was one of several Gators who struggled with his shot, but the other two Florida freshmen — Keyontae Johnson and Noah Locke — had success against the Volunteers, leading White to praise Locke’s 16-point performance and envision Johnson’s possible future on the floor.
En route to scoring five points and yanking down five rebounds in just 14 minutes, Johnson was one of two Gators to finish with a positive plus-minus against the Vols, with senior center Kevarrius Hayes being the other.
It may not have been the seniors letting down the Gators, but Saturday was seemingly further proof that Florida’s future lies in the hands of the freshmen — even in the depleted frontcourt.
“Keyontae Johnson’s a wing playing some mis-matched-four minutes, doing some four-guard stuff. Got to be careful about telling him he’s a four,” White said. “He’s our best athlete.”
Who: Florida (9-6, 1-2 SEC) vs. No. 14 Mississippi State (12-3, 0-2)
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850