The first road trip of the year didn’t go according to plan for the Florida men’s basketball team.
The Gators suffered a 62-59 loss Sunday at UConn, with the defeat both emphasizing a young UF team’s flaws and highlighting multiple areas in which coach Mike White and the Gators could improve over the course of the season.
While the postseason tournament is hardly a given considering the way Florida has played in the early going, the Gators will experience a tournament-like atmosphere when they take the court against St. Joseph’s University at 2 p.m. today in Charleston, South Carolina, in the opening game of the three-day Charleston Classic.
The tournament will feature eight teams, including two opponents the Gators have already faced this season in Towson and UConn. If Florida advances to Sunday’s championship round, a rematch with either team could be in store — yet White and his players have more pressing matters at hand.
Rather than look ahead to potential opponents, the Gators are focused on internal reflection after a 2-2 start mired by a lack of flow and subpar shooting on the offensive end.
“We are just very dysfunctional offensively right now. Obviously, we all know that. We push when we probably should walk. We walk it when we got guys open ahead of us. Especially at UConn, we passed up shots we should’ve shot and took shots maybe we shouldn’t have shot,” White said.
“How much do you talk about shot selection before it becomes too mental for the guys? I don’t know the answer to that. I’ve talked about it more this fall, probably, than I’ve done it in the past. Maybe with all the new guys, all the youth, and with our ceiling offensively — which I still think is very high, and I’ve obviously missed the target. So I’m trying to infuse some confidence in these guys.”
With UF’s most skilled shooters — Noah Locke and Tre Mann — combining to start 7 for 34 from the 3-point line, the Gators have struggled to score from outside consistently through four games this season.
UF managed just 20 points on 8-for-26 shooting in the first half, with graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. accounting for half of Florida’s makes from the field at the midpoint.
Blackshear’s ability to provide inside scoring with UF struggling to hit outside shots highlighted the Orlando native’s potential impact this season, but it was the way in which he finished the game that stressed the flip side of the equation.
Blackshear picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, yet with Florida’s frontcourt still on the mend White had little choice but to manage his minutes rather than sit him for an extended time.
He would eventually foul out with just under five minutes remaining — although UF would have an opportunity to send the contest into overtime despite his absence — and UConn would soon grab a critical offensive rebound and convert the second-chance opportunity to extend the lead with Florida’s leading scorer and rebounder sidelined.
Although junior center Gorjok Gak did make his return to the court for Florida, he was held scoreless in five minutes of action, and the loss to the Huskies further stressed UF’s lack of depth in the frontcourt.
When combined with UF’s ongoing shooting slump, it’s clear as to why the Gators are in an early rut; in spite of all the apparent issues, however, it’s too early for Florida and White to overreact.
“I don’t think it’s in our best interest to hit the panic button. We’re doing a lot of good things. We’ve got really good kids, and I thought they were extremely acceptive and communicate during film yesterday,” White said. “It’ll fall at some point. We’ve got too good of shooters. We’ve just got to figure it out.”
Keyontae Johnson F 6-5 231 So. 10.5 ppg 5.5 rpg
Kerry Blackshear Jr.F 6-10 241 Gr. 14.3 ppg 12.0 rpg
Andrew Nembhard G 6-5 193 So. 8.3 ppg 5.8 apg
Scottie LewisG 6-5 185 Fr. 9.0 ppg 2.8 rpg
Noah LockeG 6-3 207 So. 6.3 ppg 2.3 rpg
Myles DouglasF 6-7 215 RSo. 10.0 ppg 2.3 rpg
Lorenzo EdwardsF 6-8 215 Jr. 12.3 ppg 6.3 rpg
Taylor FunkF6-8 230 Jr. 10.0 ppg 5.5 rpg
Ryan DalyG 6-5 225 RJr. 19.3 ppg 9.0 rpg
Cameron BrownG 6-5 210 Fr. 9.0 ppg 4.8 rpg
Notes: For the second time in the past five seasons, Florida and Saint Joseph’s will link up in holiday tournament action. UF and SJU last battled at the 2015 Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Uncasville, Conn., which was the Gators’ third game of Mike White’s tenure … The Gators look to get back in the win column after a road setback at UConn on Sunday, where the Gators came up short despite another solid defensive effort. Kerry Blackshear led the way with 15 points and 8 rebounds — his first UF game without a double-double — while Andrew Nembhard scored all 14 of his points in the second half … Florida has been outstanding defensively, holding all four opponents this season to 63 or fewer points. The Gators rank 23rd nationally in KenPom defensive efficiency, and it’s that defensive effort that is keeping them competitive, as the team’s outside shooting has not hit its stride yet, shooting .241 from 3-point range and making just 4.8 3-pointers per game.