Inside job: No. 10 Michigan State holds off Florida by dominating in paint

Florida senior center Kevarrius Hayes attempts to get past Michigan State forward Nick Ward during Saturday's game at the O'Connell Center. [Lauren Bacho/Staff Photographer]

Mike White wasn’t happy. His eyes darted around the room and his fingers tapped incessantly on the microphone stand in the interview room inside the O’Connell Center.

The Florida coach had just watched his basketball team lose to No. 10 Michigan State 63-59 in a game where the Gators almost always played from behind, but still had a chance to win at the end.

That Florida rallied was the good news. That it failed to do the little things necessary to win left White with a bad case of the frustration blues. Especially because of what happened at the end.

“We didn’t get on the floor for that loose ball like several others and they did,” he said. “We didn’t deserve to win.

“A lot of things didn’t go well, but if we get a few more loose balls by doing what we’re supposed to do with an unbelievable environment and crowd, we’re probably sitting here as winners.”

Florida had cut the lead to two when Michigan State lost the ball on a drive and both Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone had a shot at it. Instead, Michigan State’s Kyle Ahrens found the ball and waltzed to the basket for a dunk as the shot clock expired.

Ahrens scored all seven of his points in the last three minutes of the game and his dunk pretty much ended things with 8.7 seconds to go.

“It’s unacceptable,” White said. “We took a step back today. I’d like for them to get frustrated by this. I’m not sure they are. It’s insane.”

There were other problems for the Gators as a crowd of 10,423 got louder as the clock rolled into the final minutes and a handful of Gator football players in full uniform stood cheering on the south end of the O-Dome.

But the one play is the one that will be most difficult to forget.

“It’s on me,” Hayes said. “I should have gone to the floor. You gotta make the big play there.”

Florida got a stellar performance from freshman Andrew Nembhard with 13 points and three assists, but the Gators had no answers for the Spartans’ inside game.

Michigan State scored 36 points in the paint and what was especially frustrating for White was that the Spartans started the second half with two easy layups by Nick Ward (13 points) forcing White to call a timeout.

“We came out with no energy,” White said. “I don’t know how that’s possible.”

White finds himself with a team that is at a crossroads at 5-4 and more than a week off to try to figure things out. The Gators have missed multiple opportunities to pad their resume, but have fallen short too many times.

“They’re gonna win some games,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. “They’ll bounce back.”

Izzo was less than thrilled with his own team’s performance, citing weariness from a schedule that has seen the Spartans (8-2) play six games in 17 days.

“We made some critically dumb plays and they made some good ones,” Izzo said. “I’m going to take this win and get out of here.”

Nembhard and KeVaughn Allen led UF in scoring with 13 each, but Allen needed 15 shots to get those points. He missed a forced late layup with Florida down two and 54 seconds left that Michigan State rebounded and called timeout. Nembhard was called for a foul with 29 seconds to play to set up the most crucial play in the game.

Florida continued to struggle with offense, going 7:48 in the first half without a field goal. The Gators finished the game shooting 36.5 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point land (missing 18 of 24).

“We’re not a very good offensive team,” White said. “We have good offensive pieces, though, and I believe we’ll become a good offensive team. But in the meantime, we can’t take steps backward defensively.”

Michigan State had four players in double figures led by big man Xavier Tillman’s 14 on 6-of-7 shooting. Tillman also had nine rebounds.

Up next: Florida takes a break for final exams before returning to the O’Connell Center on Dec. 18 to face Mercer at 8 p.m. on the SEC Network.


Ward 6-8 1-1 13, Goins 1-5 0-0 3, Winston 4-11 2-2 10, Langford 5-13 2-2 13, Ahrens 3-5 0-0 7, Henry 0-1 0-0 0, Tillman 6-7 2-3 14, McQuaid 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 26-51 7-8 63.


Stone 3-10 1-2 8, Hayes 1-5 4-5 6, Nembhard 6-12 0-0 13, Allen 5-15 0-0 13, Locke 1-3 0-0 2, K.Johnson 3-7 0-0 6, Bassett 1-3 0-1 2, Stokes 0-2 0-0 0, Hudson 1-3 2-4 4, Okauru 0-0 0-0 0, Ballard 2-3 0-0 5. Totals 23-63 7-12 59.

Halftime_Michigan St. 35-27. 3-Point Goals_Michigan St. 4-17 (McQuaid 1-1, Goins 1-3, Ahrens 1-3, Langford 1-6, Winston 0-4), Florida 6-24 (Allen 3-9, Ballard 1-1, Nembhard 1-4, Stone 1-5, Hudson 0-1, Locke 0-1, Bassett 0-1, K.Johnson 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Michigan St. 32 (Tillman 9), Florida 29 (Stone, Hayes 7). Assists_Michigan St. 14 (Winston 6), Florida 7 (Nembhard 3). Total Fouls_Michigan St. 11, Florida 12.


  1. Great defense and again a horrible offensive game. Allen took some bad shots at the end as usual. We have absolutely 0 consistent outside shooters. With no inside offensive presence, we are going to live and die with a horribly inconsistent outside game. A valiant effort but unfortunately not enough.

  2. Captain Obvious: 1. Gators are offensively challenged and have not post play with the ball. Hayes can be guarded man-up and he has no moves to the basket if he gets the ball inside. Gators shot 33% against Mich. St. and 25% from the 3pt line. So, give them the outside shot. Man-up but don’t press-man. Even a 3-2 matchup zone will work. Gators very weak from the free-throw line so don’t worry if you foul them, even on an open layup.

    2. Defensively–they challenge you outside, but have a tendency to forget about the corners and if you get the ball inside, there is nobody to challenge the post player. However, full court and outside, they will get after you. Pick and roll and backdoor screens work well, as will a post-pick.

    3;. Overall: This team will give you defensive trouble, but with an average offense and defense, can be beat. They will lost a lot of SEC games by 4 to 10 points because of no outside shooting, no rebounding and no inside post.

    I have to say that Coach White needs to find a combination that can score consistently. Nembhard is trying hard as the #1, but Hudson has disappeared from the offense, as have Hayes and Allen. It’s apparent to me the half-court offense is not working, so try an up-tempo, fast break game with full-court man to man, some 3 and 4 cuts and screens (No sense picking for the 5 spot as whoever is there can’t score). Put in the frosh who have scoring ability to spell your starters. Or, play the frosh as starters. It’s going to be a long season and getting to .500 will be a successful season. An NCAA bid is out.The NIT might be possible if Gators reach .500.

    As a fan, it was horrible to watch this offense against a quality team (Mich. St.) and a bad team (West Va.).

    White now has to be accountable for why his team is playing horribly on offense.

    • You’ve said most everything I was thinking and more, so no need to repeat. Had to listen on radio today, and it was good to hear Lee Humphrey doing the color alongside Mick. CMW was clearly frustrated in the post-game radio interview. He acknowledged the scoring woes and praised the overall effort, but was very critical of a lack of going to the floor for loose balls in the final minutes. Said he didn’t care how many scrapes, bumps and bruises it caused, but he’ll drill them in loose ball scrambles in every practice for the rest of the year. Not being able to see the action, it just seems to me that the biggest problem is poor shooting, and I don’t know if there’s much CMW can do about that during the course of the season.

  3. Close game, whatever the weaknesses. How was it that we played and finished so close yet we don’t give hardly any credit for the team’s play. Yes, we have a number deficiencies in talent. Biggest concern is lack of scoring in the paint. All said, Gators played hard with lots of room for improvement. Exciting game. I would take an ugly win as we did vs WVa. Free throws: repetition repetition and repetition. Go Gators!

  4. Stokes, Basset and Hayes 1 of 11 inside of 8 feet. Can’t get much worse than that and can’t win against a good team without any big men who can score. Good effort, played hard and played good defense. Please recruit some big men. Afraid to ask, but does anyone know why Gak is not playing this year?

  5. Repeat of the last things I mentioned….if we don’t hit the 3 we lose, looks like defense is good but tires our guys out, the team is not gelling at all. Hudson is a major disappointment so far this year, we need him back to his old self or we are going to be a 50 – 60 point team all year. Allen shooting 33% as our leading scorer is not good. Hayes plays hard but we have no inside presence and haven’t had that for a the last few years. Free throws well that is a mental thing that they have to overcome, CMW can’t do anything about that it’s in their head. On the bright side we are not getting blown out so if any of these issues we are having change we should start winning again. Still very stoked about the recruiting class we have coming in next year, that should help us big time, but that’s next year….Go Gators!

  6. The Gators inside men are to the basketball team what the offensive line has been to the football team for several years – not big boy basketball quality. Weak shooters and get pushed around too easily. They will lose more games for the Gators than they win for them. I’m not even going to get into the joke of the free throw shooting.

  7. This Gator team still could’ve won despite all their faults, and that’s what has to hurt (the players and coaches). Bigs gotta play BIG! And I know Coach W can coach, but can he recruit some bigs that play BIG in big games? The Gator fans looked and sounded amazing on national T.V. So exposure isn’t the problem.
    Go Gators!

  8. You’re in the game with under a minute to go against the #10 team in the country, even though you’re struggling on offense and missing free throws. Too bad Coach White can’t just snap his fingers to break Hudson’s slump or to get Allen to make smarter shots. That’s not on the coaches. White does need to get the team to work the ball around more and to drive to the basket more often and step up their inside game,, like the tv announcer was saying. Work on those three things and they can beat top ten-teams because they play great defense that keeps the game close. It’ll be interesting to see what happens after a week of practice. You’d think that playing Michigan State that close will make them hungry to step up their point production.

  9. Michigan St is always tough in the paint and always a tough matchup for UF. The difference between UF going far in the NCAA tourney and barely making it will be determined by the 4 and 5 positions. Good play there equals good results for the team.

  10. This is a game we could have and should have won. But we lost because we are just not good enough. There are so many areas that we need to improve in. A lack of offense. No inside presence on offense. Inconsistent outside shooting. Poor free throw shooting. No ball movement. No player movement. No inside defensive presence. I can go on and on. The bottom line is everyone on this team needs to step up their game and play better or they will be luck to get 20 wins and they will not make the tournament.

  11. Spartans weren’t playing their best but still one of the best teams in the country. Gators played hard but not smart enough to beat this team.

    Gators will pull together and play better as we improve in the post.

  12. Hats off to our D that kept us in the game. I love their scrappiness. But D is not enough against talented teams. Once again this team is absent of any post up players who can score. BD had issues recruiting bigs and now MW. BD and MW both guards themselves for whatever reason seem to not prioritize bigs or are just whiff on signing any. This team is NIT bound without a post scorer. We are easy to defend since everyone knows we have no post up scorers, we are simply a team that dribbles, tries to drive, and basically settle for long jumpers. We live and die by the long ball and basically we die. Has anyone dare to ask MW why he is unable to find inside scorers, does he even try? Right now we have the worst looking O, it’s like a pick up game. Dribble and chunk it.

  13. The team is what it is, I never expected they would win so I was pleasantly surprised that it came down to the last plays. They made it entertaining and at least it wasnt a blowout. Remeber some fans are having to endure that, appreciate what we do have. Lower your expectations and enjoy, this isnt a championship team, at least they keep it close and thus enjoyable to watch, or listen to.

    • Daz….I don’t think they are enjoyable to watch, at least I don’t think so. Reminds me of many frustrated yrs of watching Champ,s and Mac,s football offenses. A strong defense can only go so far….in wins and in customer satisfaction. Anybody like 10-3 football games or 42-38 basketball games? Kindy post so.

    • I’m not sure just how many people enjoy watching games that they can pretty much write a script for. The Gators love the long shots but are pretty bad at making them. They are about junior high level at shooting free throws and will get steamrolled inside. When they do drive to the basket they are fairly often totally out of control. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

  14. Thus far, its always been January before CMW finds his best combination of players. This year, he may need to just move on from the Seniors and go all in with the new guys? Guys with enthusiasm should be identified during the recruitment process?

  15. Daz….I don’t think they are enjoyable to watch, at least I don’t think so. Reminds me of many frustrated yrs of watching Champ’s and Mac’s football offenses. A strong defense can only go so far….in wins and in customer satisfaction. Anybody like 10-3 football games or 42-38 basketball games? Kindy post so.

  16. After watching the Gators at three games this year I have come to the conclusion that the Gators have no front court game at all so this is probably going to be a NIT year. Face the facts the Gators have only six guys on the squad that are taller than 6’6″. Lets break them down:
    1) Gorjak Gak – Bad knees has not played all year and even when he was healthy has no offensive game.
    2) Chase Johnson – Constantly in concussion protocol. Too soft. Has not played more than five minutes in the very few games he has been well enough to play in so it is hard to judge if he has any game or not.
    3) Isaiah Stokes – Has potential but cannot play without fouling and needs to lose significant weight to be a real factor. Can only play limited minutes at this point.
    4) Dontay Bassett – Been here two years and has shown no improvement and cannot play defense.
    5)Keith Stone – He showed real promise last year and I expected him to have a break out year but as of yet that has not happened.
    6) Kevarrius Hayes – Plays hard but again has no offensive game. He has some of the worse hands I have ever seen. Nembhard really tries to get him involved but he drops almost every pass he throws him and he cannot shoot better than 50% from the line even if he gets there and has no mid range game at all.
    There in lies the Gators problem. You got six guys that can be classified as big men. Two never play. One can only play sparingly and the other three have no post up game. Any of those three get in foul trouble and the Gators are forced to play small ball. Throw in the fact I think Jalen Hudson has know interest in playing and looks totally unhappy and the only guys that can score are Allen, Ballard and Locke. Nembhard can but he needs to learn how to finish at the basket better because he misses easy lay up all the time. Hopefully White can get some big guys to sign that can actually play offense or they are going to be a middle of the road team until they do.

    • It will always amaze me how schools like Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, and North Carolina can consistently sign 6’10” and taller players and usually have two or three on the bench. Most with no chance of seeing significant playing time and the Gators can guarantee a starting role for one of them but can’t sign one to save their lives.

      • Well, I suppose this is stating the obvious, but the programs you mention are to basketball as Bama, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, and traditionally, Notre Dame, USC and couple more are to football. They get almost all of the recruits you’re talking about because of their reputations, with only the occasional one-and-done like Ben Simmons signing with LSU or Michael Porter with Missouri. It’s not just difficult to compete with those schools for that type of player, it’s almost impossible.

        • I think your reply points more to the players lack of intelligence than to the fact that the schools mentioned are “basketball” schools. It still doesn’t explain why a player will sit on the bench for 4 years behind a superstar stud when he could be playing and developing his talents elsewhere. I believe NBA scouts would look at seasoned veterans from “non basketball schools” faster than they will a career bench warmer.

          • What you say makes a lot of sense, but it does seem to me that NBA teams are more willing to take chances on young players based almost solely on potential. That said, I see your point that it’s better to play for a “lesser” school than to be buried on the bench at a blue blood school.

      • I think it’s time for Mike White to start looking over in Europe for some bigs, like college track and field does, they’re loaded with foreign runners, especially the distance events. Europe has plenty of bigs in need of development, White sure as hell isn’t recruiting any on this side of the pond.

    • Excellent post! We are in trouble aren’t we with the lack of big men we have. Stokes is out of shape and can only played limited minutes. Basically leaves us with Hayes and Bassett inside and Stokes occasionally. Not good. Does anyone have any news on Gak? Is he just not coming back. He’s limited but we need all the help we can get inside. If we can get him back that would give us 4 big men to play.

  17. I don’t believe you can win an NCAA title without outside shooting at 42 percent or better, at least a better than average defense, a post player and a team that can hit 70 percent from the line.
    The gators have better than average defense, but that’s it. I keep reading this team will improve as the season progresses. I haven’t seen it–except from Nembhard–and don’t expect it. a .500 finish would be about right for this team as it stands now. They still have Tennessee twice, Vandy twice, KY twice, LSU and Auburn among other SEC schools plus Butler again. Enough said.

  18. HAVE LOOKED AT THE SCHEDULE REMAINING AND STUDIED THE SEC OPPONENTS AND WHAT THEY HAVE. I have watched every Gator game on TV and studied the offense. Without Nembhard’s improving play at the point, this team would be a train wreck and filled with disappointing and disappearing players. I simply cannot understand where Hudson and Allen’s game has gone. Hayes never had a game.
    If Gators continue shooting 34% from the field, 25% from three point line, 63% from the free throw line and continually get outrebounded and display no post offense, they will finish 15-16 heading into the SEC tournament. A great defense with NO offense will not get them very far. The only sec team that looks worse is Georgia. Ark, Mizzou and Tex AM are about even with Fla. S. Carolina has a slight edge. How long until the 2019-20 season begins? White has a Top 5 recruiting class coming in that year. I hate to wait another year, but without drastic changes, this is not gonna be Year of the Gator.