Gators get work in before season opener

Florida Southern guard Rico Releford, left, tries to stop Florida forward Keyontae Johnson as he drives toward the basket in an exhibition game Tuesday at the O'Connell Center. [Alan Youngblood/Staff photographer]

The result may have briefly been in question in Florida’s final tune-up before opening the 2018-19 season, but a win wasn’t necessarily what Gators coach Mike White was looking for Tuesday night.

UF held a comfortable lead from start to finish in claiming a 95-70 win over Florida Southern in an exhibition contest at Exactech Arena in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, but the fourth-year head coach was less than ecstatic with his team’s play.

“We were exposed by Florida Southern in a bunch of different areas,” White said. “There’s a lot to take from this game.”

The contest did not count in the win column, but it gave White a clearer idea of the work remaining before UF opens the season Nov. 6 at 9 p.m. at Florida State. Particularly on the defensive end, as the visiting Moccasins would only improve their shooting percentage as the night went on. After taking a 20-point lead into halftime, White and the coaching staff harped on the need for renewed defensive intensity. The message seemingly fell on deaf ears.

“They didn’t (improve defensively in the second half). We were (outscored), I want to say 27-21 at one point after a halftime film session and a talk that wasn’t very positive,” White said. “I wasn’t pleased with the way we responded. As our veterans know, when you take a dip defensively and you lose your edge, of which I thought we showed up with at the tip tonight, it’s really hard to get it back.”

White expects the Gators to rely on depth to make up for a lack of experience, meaning the trio of freshmen are set to command a significant amount of minutes from the early going. The much-hyped point guard, Andrew Nembhard, earned the start against the Moccasins and proceeded to wow the UF faithful with glimpses of his advanced passing ability and superior court vision. But Nembhard, who would turn in four points and four assists in 27 minutes of action, wasn’t the only fresh face turning heads. Forward Keyontae Johnson scored in double digits to go along with eight rebounds in his first taste of collegiate action, and sharpshooter Noah Locke got hot from beyond the arc late to help close out the contest. Overall, White felt the freshmen contributed well — although they weren’t exempt from critiques from their head coach.

“All three of them were decent today. I thought all of them showed signs of the positives they bring. We all know Andrew’s a terrific passer and ball-handler, director of traffic, really, really sees the game,” White said. “Keyontae’s a high-level athlete, of course, had some nice finishes for us. And then Noah did what he did, you know, late in the game when he got it going a little bit with his jumper. He can really shoot it. All three of those guys have a ways to go, just like our veterans.”

Suffice to say, White believes the Gators have much work to do if they’re intent on making a return trip to the NCAA Tournament and living up to high internal expectations.

“I’m happy with the win, but we know what we have to work on. And that’s defense,” guard Mike Okauru said. “We definitely needed this game. We had a scrimmage last week with nobody in the arena. Just to have people in the arena, it just showed us what a real game is like. We’ve got to get better though.”



  1. Sounds like we got some nice additions to our veterans. As coach says, Offense and DEFENSE is paramount in this league, otherwise, plan on Williams and ????, whatever his name is at Hillbilly junction (affectionately) will take you to the woodshed. Only love for Tenn. There are others too! Auburn, Kentucky, South Carolina to mention a few…Better grow up quickly…it’s about to start. Go Gators!

  2. Went to the game. Keyontae Johnson may be our best freshman (they’re all good). He’s the sort of physical undersized forward that plays much bigger than his size and really seems to know his game (think Admiral Schofield).
    Defense could be an issue — I think FSC scored on seven straight possessions in second half. Coaches can’t have been happy with that.
    Looking forward to it.

  3. Wow, that picture of Keyontae Johnson shows he’s already got the body of senior. Looking at the roster and player weights, I think we should be alright with the front court this year as long as Hayes doesn’t play center. We have Stokes at 270 lbs, Gak at 245, Stone at 245, and Bassett at 240, while Hayes is only 225. Maybe Hayes has developed an outside shot and will assume the stretch 4 role.

    • Agree about Johnson’s physique, Sly. He looks a little like Admiral Schofield. I don’t see Hayes being able to develop that outside shot, though. He started last year with a couple of 8 foot turn-arounds off the glass, and I thought he might’ve had an off-season breakthrough, but that didn’t last long.

      • Yeah, I was smoking my pipe when I was dreaming of the possibilities for Hayes other than at center. JK, I don’t smoke. Speaking of Admiral Schofield, just think of how cool his name would be if he had went to the Naval Academy or Vanderbilt.