Notebook: Michigan State’s mismatch in frontcourt

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman (23) attempts to block Florida guard Andrew Nembhard from scoring Saturday in the O'Connell Center. The Gators lost 63-59 to the Spartans. [Lauren Bacho/Staff Photographer]

Florida’s 63-59 loss to Michigan State ended in dramatic fashion as the Gators clawed back from multiple double-digit deficits to make it a one-possession game in the final minute. But if one were to take a quick gander at the box score, Michigan State’s frontcourt dominance would seemingly rule out a close contest.

The Spartans scored 36 points in the paint, with forwards Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman combining for 27 points on 12-for-15 shooting. The Gators mustered 26 points of their own inside, but UF’s starting frontcourt of Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone turned in paltry shooting performances in comparison. The duo combined to go 4-for-15 from the field, although the pair did combine for six offensive rebounds. Michigan State’s dominance inside wasn’t lost on the man in charge in East Lansing, Tom Izzo, although the MSU head coach did lament Florida’s rebounding edge against a sizable Spartans frontcourt.

“I thought Nick did a lot of good things early. He struggled a little bit defensively, which is why we can have him out (of the game) a little bit. Xavier was really good defensively and struggled a little bit, although he was pretty good offensively. I thought that Nick, early, was really good. He didn’t rebound as well as we wanted him to, but he was really good.”

For a Gators team that has seen three of its four losses decided by seven points or less, the disparity in the frontcourt and on the glass — the Spartans outrebounded the Gators 36-33 on the afternoon — was the deciding factor in the eyes of UF coach Mike White.

“We had to trap the post, and when they throw it out of the post we stand up and rest instead of sprinting out of the post,” White said. “Which led to open threes, which led to open baseline-drives and lay-ups and dunks.”

Gators take step back on defensive end

Coming into the game, the Spartans had been outscored in the second half just once in nine games this season — and Michigan State still managed to secure a 20-point win in that contest against then-No. 17 UCLA on Nov. 22.

Meaning Florida’s four-point advantage in the second half is a building block of sorts for a Gators team that has struggled this season when attempting to claw back from a deficit.

After trailing 35-27 at the midway point, the Gators outscored the competition 32-28 down the stretch, resulting in a one-possession contest in the waning minutes. Considering Florida couldn’t replicate in the second half the early first-half five-point burst from KeVaughn Allen, however, White found himself lamenting another missed opportunity by the Gators.

“I liked Kevaughn’s aggressiveness. We’re at the point right now where, offensively, obviously we’re searching. We all know that. We’re not a very good offensive team. We have a lot of good offensive pieces though, and I believe we’ll become a good offensive team,” White said. “In the meantime, we can’t take steps backward defensively.”

Horrific” practices led to defeat

When the dust had settled on Florida’s four-point loss, Allen and White had an opportunity to reflect on the circumstances leading to UF’s defeat. Allen spoke first, eventually admitting the preparation portion was anything but flawless.

“We just got to really focus in practice. We had a couple of bad practices leading up to this game,” Allen said. “It carried over to this game. We just got to clean up the mistakes.”

White didn’t just concur with Allen’s assessment, but rather the fourth-year UF coach opted to take it a few steps further.

“Oh, horrific. No idea, no idea. We weren’t very good two days ago, weren’t very good yesterday. Didn’t sprint out of traps yesterday, probably felt pretty good about ourselves after West Virginia,” White said. “Blew the whistle, started the drill over again several times yesterday, blew the whistle again, talked about it, made them do it right. And it carries over to today.”


  1. Poor practices after an ugly win over a not so good WV and these guys lose focus. Incredible. Doesn’t seem like any team leadership or desire to excel. Furthermore, without any post scoring, teams are playing our wings and guards tight, no real open shots thus we are settling on jumpers and wild shots. Until MW finds a post player who can score, we live and die by the long ball and so far, it’s a NCAA miss.

  2. Our problem is not our defense it’s our offense. We have have little inside scoring/rebounding and have to make adjustments in our lineup to counter this which means giving out bigs more minutes and playing them together otherwise we’ll continue to get beat by bigger/taller teams especially on the road. It’s an adjustment White clearly has not considered as far as we can tell. We only lost by four so just so if we had a better inside game we could have won this game.

    • Its time to move on from Gak and Chase Johnson. They are damaged goods. I don’t think Johnson has played more then five minutes in a game since he has been here. Gak tried but obviously his knee is not responding. I think White needs to encourage them to move on unless they are ready to suck it up and get out there. I know I know you have Johnson in concussion protocol and you have to be careful with that but if the guy cannot take the punishment then maybe he should not be playing a contact sport at all. The Gators could be using those two scholarships on guys that can play and contribute. Right now he has two guys sitting on the bench taking up two of thirteen scholarships he is allowed to use. That is just not right.

  3. Time for Mr. White to recruit big men who can stay healthy and score in the paint. Perhaps it is also time for White to play two Centers at a time. We have no consistent outside shooters and Hayes (while probably the hardest player on the court) can’t score at all. Lord knows we are not going to the NCAA tournament with the outside shooting we have so maybe playing an extra big, may open something up.

  4. And as a follow up, I am not knocking Hayes. I like him and think that he tries harder than anyone else on the court. He just does not have the hands or the size to match up with the big men on the other teams.

    • He needs another big man to play off of and he can get rebounds – stickbacks – etc. since he can’t do it on his own. At this point we have to play two big men at a time to open up the floor on offense since teams can pressure our outside shooters since our inside game is so weak. The truth is Billy D. would have made this adjustment to playing two bigs at the same time a long time ago as would many other top level coaches so you know.

  5. The irony in this story’s title and pic is that Florida guard, Andrew Nembhard, was the ONLY 1 DRIVING TO THE DAMN RACK against Mich. State’s BIG MEN, and scoring at the end of the game. Operative word: ”SCORING.” As Allen drove to the rim and threw-up CRAP all day! Just maybe these Florida Basketball prima-donna’s NEED TO HAER THE DAMN TRUTH! So here it goes…
    Hayes is ONLY a complimentary big man, like steveob commented above. Allen is primarily a 3 point and outside shooter only, Hudson’s A.W.O.L., Hayes is JUST a shot-blocker and rebounder: a complimentary big, as Kevarrius Hayes was best when he had another big with him (like Patric Young and/or Justin Leon). And Nembhard, as a FRESHMAN, was the only one against Mich. State to say, ”Screw this! I am gonna’ show y’all how to score” at the end of the game, and he actually GAVE FLORIDA A CHANCE in the closing minutes. And all Coach White can talk about to the media is ”diving to the floor for loose balls.”
    Really Coach White!?!? Have you ever, ever MENTIONED to the media WHAT THE HELL is up with your ”unknown big” CHASE JOHNSON? Why isn’t the media asking what he’s been doing for TWO YEARS at U.F.?!?!? And are THE UNIV. OF FLORIDA Basketball Coaches & staff going to start utilizing the 100’s of THOUSAND’S of DOLLARS worth of U.F. SCHOLARSHIPS for some BIG MEN that can actually shoot, rebound , and SCORE, Coach White!?!? Here’s a tip Coach White: just watch ”Joakim, Al, and Corey!” Please go watch those Florida Basketball 2006-’07 tapes, that I’m sure are lying around somewhere in the O’ DOME. And then watch and learn HOW FLORIDA BASKETBALL ACTUALLY WINS with true big men.
    And I know the ’04’s were special, but Florida Basketball can WIN with just 1/2 the bigs they once were, with Nembhard and Co.
    Damn… I’m done… for now! Go Gators!

  6. Are reporters silent or afraid to ask MW why no competent bigs? Without them we are a middle of the road team. The D can only take you so far. I’ve yet to hear anyone questioning MW as to why UF has landed any competent bigs that can score near the basket.