Prather's career game gives Gators opening win


Florida forward Casey Prather drives past North Florida forward Charles McRoy during the first half at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Friday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 5:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 5:13 p.m.

Florida coach Billy Donovan didn’t find much to celebrate in his 18th straight season-opening win Friday.

Yes, the No. 10 Gators beat UNF 77-69, needing late free throws from freshman point guard Kasey Hill and sophomore guard Michael Frazier II to seal the win. But given how poorly the Gators played on defense during some stretches, Donovan has cause for concern heading into UF’s next game Tuesday night at No. 20 Wisconsin.

And Donovan confirmed the Gators will play the Wisconsin game without point guard Scottie Wilbekin, forward Dorian Finney-Smith and center Damontre Harris, who will remain suspended for violation of team rules.

It was UF’s lowest margin of victory in a season opener since beating Temple 72-64 to start the 2001-02 season.

“I was really disappointed in our team, as disappointed as I’ve been,” Donovan said. “The first 15 or 16 minutes they did a really good job. But to get an (18)-point lead and to go into the half only up six, a button has to turn on.”

The bright spot for Florida? Senior forward Casey Prather, who poured in a career-high 28 points and carried the Gators early with Hill and senior center Patric Young in foul trouble. Prather scored 17 points in the first half, surpassing his previous career-high of 14 points against Virginia in the 2012 NCAA Tournament by halftime.

Prather got to the free-throw line seven times in the first half and 11 for the game. The 6-foot-6 senior from Jackson, Tenn., made 8 of 11 free throws.

“I was just being aggressive, doing anything I could do to help my team win,” Prather said. “Driving when I could drive, defending, just trying to be in the right spot for my teammates.”

Prather’s 28 points were the most for a Gator player since Kenny Boynton scored 28 points against Yale on Jan. 6.

“Every time I found him he was able to finish or get to the line,” Hill said.

The Gators also got an unexpected and much-needed contribution off the bench from Frazier. Questionable going into the game after recovering from mononucleosis, Frazier expected to play about eight to 10 minutes. But with fellow sophomores DeVon Walker and Dillon Graham struggling, Frazier stepped up late, finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds and three assists.

Hill had a solid debut (15 points, four assists), but the Gators got little production from both Young and forward Will Yeguete. Young scored UF’s first two points of the game on free throws and didn’t score again, finishing with two points, two rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes. And Young didn’t do much defensively against UNF center Travis Wallace, who had 15 points and eight rebounds. Yeguete ended up with two points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals in 22 minutes, but still doesn’t look 100 percent coming off offseason knee surgery.

Florida failed to defend the 3-point line well. UNF shot 9 of 24 (37.5 percent) from beyond the arc. Donovan said after the game the Gators looked lost at times defending the 3-point line.

“We are light years away from being even remotely a good defensive team right now and light years away from being a ranked team,” Donovan said.

Case in point — Florida took a 37-20 lead on a layup by walk-on Jacob Kurtz with 2:38 left in the first half. But UNF closed the half with an 11-0 run to cut Florida’s lead to 37-31. UNF guard Beau Beech made two 3-pointers during the flurry. On offense, Walker had a pair of turnovers and Graham missed a wide-open 3-point attempt.

“Some of our younger guys need to understand how quickly momentum can change,” Donovan said.

The saving grace for the Gators was at the free-throw line. Florida made its first 17 attempts and finished 27 of 32 (84.4 percent) from the charity stripe. With an increased emphasis on calling contact fouls in an effort to open up offense, Florida will need to stay strong from the free-throw line going forward.

“When (UF) starts the game 17-for-17 from the free-throw line, and they are bad free-throw shooters, you think you are going to be OK,” UNF coach Matthew Driscoll said. “It is what it is. I’m really proud of our guys. The ability to sustain a couple of their punches, and like a boxing match, we kept getting up off the canvas.”

Florida extended its lead back to 18 points in the second half, but UNF had the ball down 70-62 with 58.6 second left after Young missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw attempt. But Beech missed a 3-point attempt, and Frazier and Hill made a combined 3 of 4 free throws to close out the game.

UNF outrebounded the Gators 37-35 and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds.

“We’ve got to get better,” Frazier said. “It’s good that we got the win, but there are a lot of areas that we can get better at.”

FREE THROWS: Florida won its 23rd straight season opener. … The announced crowd, on the afternoon of UF’s homecoming parade, was 10,550. … Gainesville native and former P.K. Yonge standout guard Devin Wilson finished with four points, two rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes off the bench. … Patric Young was named to the Coaches preseason All-SEC first-team Friday, while Scottie Wilbekin was named to the second team.

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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