Missed free throws make defeating Spiders more adventurous

Florida center Patric Young and Richmond forward Alonzo Nelson-Ododa scramble for a loose ball during the second half at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 in Gainesville. Florida came from behind to beat Richmond 67-58.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, January 4, 2014 at 6:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 4, 2014 at 6:58 p.m.

It's not a worthless statistic, but it can be a misleading one. I probably let it bother me too much. But a game like Saturday's between Florida and Richmond was a perfect example of why it is a flawed measurement.

For some reason, it has been determined that a close game in college basketball is one decided by five points or less. Forget that a six-point game is a two-possession game. That's not the issue.

The issue is that a four-point game can become an eight-point game in the final seconds with late free throws. And then there are games like Saturday's.

“It was a close game,” Patric Young said.

Well, of course it was.

To say Florida's 67-58 win was not a close game would be to only look at the final score, which was only made that close by the Gators' inability to make free throws. Again. UF went 2-of-8 from the line in the last minute and, while you know that clanged free throws are going to hurt them at some point, they were able to overcome them against the Spiders.

All the misses did on Saturday was make a tight-game-turned-comfortable into another adventure.

In the end, Florida was able to hold on in a game where it came out sans focus, especially when adversity hit.

“I could feel we weren't fighting,” Young said. “I wanted to get our guys fired up.”

He did with 4:33 to go when he hit a wild, 10-foot hook/throw shot and was fouled. It was 43 seconds later that Casey Prather made his own three-point play, and by the time the 12-0 run was over Billy Donovan's team was finally able to breathe.

If you're down in a game against a team you are killing on the boards with less than five minutes to go, no matter what the final score is we're talking about a close game.

“It was a battle,” said Dorian Finney-Smith, who led Florida with 13 rebounds.

“I thought it was close,” Donovan said.

In the end, these Gators won again and finished their non-conference schedule with an 11-2 record. If I had told you before the season they'd win 11 out of 13, you probably would have taken it. If I told you about the injuries and suspensions and that Chris Walker still would be watching from the bench, you'd have thought they overachieved.

“With our schedule,” Donovan said, “we could be starting league play in a legitimate hole.”

Instead, they start SEC play Wednesday with a resume padded with quality wins. More than that, this Florida team has added to its scar tissue.

Donovan talked in December about how his team had been scarred by three years of tough games, three straight Elite Eight appearances, three years of conference battles. For a team that starts four seniors, the skin had been thickened by almost every situation imaginable.

Case in point, Florida has played in more NCAA Tournament games over the last three seasons than Kentucky.

This season so far has only added to the stories they will one day tell their kids.

“I don't think we're going to see anything in SEC play we haven't seen,” Donovan said. “It will help us moving forward. We're not going to be taken by surprise.”

Saturday might not have been the toughest game (Richmond came in 91st in RPI), but it was a dangerous one. And with the Gators perhaps mentally softened by 18 days without facing a ranked opponent after playing three in two weeks, the game had an uneasy feel to it midway through the second half.

But a tough team pulled out another tough win.

“I'm proud of the record part of it right now,” Donovan said. “Our guys have done a pretty good job.

“They should be proud that (Saturday) they fought through it and that they can learn from this.”

The league they will be facing is hardly formidable. But league play is always difficult no matter how good the teams are. There is the familiarity that is lacking in the pre-conference and the intensity that is not always there during the holidays.

And in conference time, the games come flying at you one after another (six in 18 days starting Wednesday).

“I'm ready,” said Finney-Smith, who will be playing his first conference games. “You gotta be.”

There's no other choice.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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