Gators return to action vs. Providence

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Florida sophomore guard Noah Locke shoots between Butler forward Jordan Tucker (1) and guard Kamar Baldwin (3) in the second half of the Dec. 7 game in Indianapolis. Butler defeated Florida 76-62. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

What: Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational

Who: Florida (6-3) vs. Providence (6-5)

When: 7 tonight

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

TV: ESPN2. Radio: 103.7-FM


Still looking to find their footing, the Florida men’s basketball team’s run of non-conference contests continues at 7 tonight in Brooklyn, New York, in the Barclays Center against Providence, giving coach Mike White and Co. an opportunity to continue fine-tuning the offense. 

Following a 14-point loss at Butler — which White said was the team’s best offensive performance of the season despite the result — the fifth-year Florida coach acknowledged the team’s offensive overhaul as of late, saying it was simply in UF’s best interest. 

However, regardless of the game plan and sets, more often than not the Gators just aren’t shooting the ball consistently enough to win. Through nine games, the Gators (6-3) are hitting just 29.1 percent of their 3-point attempts this season, compared to 33.4 percent from behind the arc last season. 

Sometimes in basketball it’s about whether it goes in or not. We missed a lot of really good looks against a really good defense. We haven’t made it offensively. We’re not there,” White said of the team’s performance at Butler. “Just got to make a shot. Got to step up and make a shot. Got to make the front end of a one-and-one. Got to make free throws. But we had some (3-pointers) that, when we shot them, there wasn’t anyone around us. Several. We’re not the best shooting team, but we’ve got to shoot it better than we’re shooting it.”

That doesn’t mean White wants the Gators to hesitate at the sight of an open 3-pointer — on the contrary, he wants the team to shoot with confidence and forget about the previous missed field goal, which is easier said than done with a roster brimming with underclassmen. 

“That’s what we’re dealing with on a daily basis: how to prepare this 18-, 19-year-old to go hard at practice today, how to talk this 19-year-old off the cliff because it’s not going as expected, because he’s not getting 25 a game like last year. You go through it every year, but I’ve never been through it to this extent, to this amount of exterior expectation, with this amount of young guys who are needed,” White said. “We need these young guys. We’ve had some older teams. I’ve said it to a bunch of people lately. This is difficult. It can be a good problem to have, too. I like our talent level. I like our guys a lot. This team is fun to be around. There are a ton of positives. But I have a newfound respect for some of these guys who deal with teams that are this young year in and year out.”

On top of the underclassmen’s continued emergence, the Gators are also still learning how to best utilize graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. 

An adept shooter and floor-spacer, Blackshear converted all four of his two-point shots at Butler, yet shot just 1-for-6 from the 3-point line. Considering he serves as UF’s primary rebounder as well, bringing Blackshear farther away from the basket may limit Florida’s second-chance opportunities more often than not. Aside from Blackshear, the Gators don’t have an established low-post presence in the early going due to a combination of injuries to upperclassmen and inexperience with two freshmen, meaning the team often gives up size on both ends. 

With the Gators still looking to get in sync offensively, White acknowledged Blackshear’s ability to space the floor on offense remains ever valuable to Florida, but it’s a skill-set contingent on his teammates moving without the basketball, getting open and knocking down shots. 

For the team to find its groove offensively, it seems Blackshear must, too. 

“He’s our most versatile offensive guy. I get that question about how we’re utilizing KJ (Blackshear). If you watch what the did at Virginia Tech, he was, a lot of times the first three-fourths of a possession, he was beyond the 3-point line, he was at the elbows. He’s good at a lot. He’s not strictly a low-post, banging presence, he’s not strictly a 3-point shooter. Perhaps his best asset is his ability to pass the ball, to play through him, to catch it, to make decisions, to move it. He directs traffic vocally. So, is he in a great, great rhythm? No. We’re still trying to help him in that regard.” 


PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida

Keyontae Johnson F 6-5  231 So. 12.6 ppg 6.0 rpg

Kerry Blackshear Jr. F 6-10 241 Gr. 13.3 ppg 8.4 rpg 

Andrew Nembhard G 6-5  193 So. 10.1 ppg 5.2 apg

Noah Locke G 6-3  207 So. 8.7 ppg 2.0 3fg 

Scottie Lewis G 6-5  185 Fr. 7.9 ppg 4.0 rpg

Providence

Kalif Young F 6-9  250 Sr.  5.5 ppg 5.1 rpg

Emmitt Holt F 6-7  230 Gr.  8.5 ppg 5.2 rpg

David Duke F 6-5  200 So.  12.8 ppg 4.7 rpg

Alpha Diallo G 6-7  210 Sr.   12.3 ppg 8.4 rpg

Luwane Pipkins G 5-11 180 Gr.   7.9 ppg 2.7 rpg

Notes: Florida meets up with Providence, facing a Big East opponent for the third time in the past four games after defeating Xavier in the Charleston Classic final and losing at Butler. … The Gators have won all four prior meetings, including both ends of a home-and-home during the non-conference portion of both UF national championship seasons. … Florida, which makes a trip to the New York City area nearly every season, makes its first appearance at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Last December, the Gators topped West Virginia in the Jimmy V Classic, 66-56, at Madison Square Garden. … Florida ranks 12th in the SEC and 279th in the country in scoring, averaging 67 points a game. The Gators also rank 10th in the league and 307th in the country in 3-point shooting, making 29.1 percent from behind the arc.

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