Dooley: Gators feed off energy from special night on “Billy Donovan Court”

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Florida players celebrate after a big play Saturday against Vanderbilt at Exactech Arena. The Gators won 84-66 over the Commodores. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

There was 5:35 remaining in the game — a game long since decided — when Florida’s basketball team went to the bench during a timeout called by Vanderbilt.

“I looked up,” said Mike White, “and Chris Chiozza is in our huddle.”

The two embraced on this feel-good night when Billy Donovan had the court named after him and the first row of fans on the student side was a history lesson in Gator basketball.

It’s always easy when a team wins a game with an adrenaline-fueled effort on a special night to say that one action caused the other.

 And it might have.

 All we know for sure is that Florida played an inspired 20 minutes of basketball on a night when the fans were bouncing off each other because of the past and the present. 

These Gators were told to ignore the hoopla surrounding the pregame buzz and halftime ceremony.

“We had to block it out and focus on Vandy,” said sophomore Noah Locke.

But it’s pretty clear they wanted to show their fans — and the NBA celebrities in attendance — there is still some fight left in this dog.
“A little bit,” White said when asked about any concerns about the Vanderbilt game being about too much of the things that had nothing to do with scouting reports. “I also knew that it would bring a lot of positivity to the environment and energy.

“Our players fed off that.”

 Whether it was Tre Mann knocking down a 3 and looking over at Bradley Beal (one of his favorite players) or Scottie Lewis flying around like his hair was on fire, the Gators took the energy that the night provided and made it their own.

The crowd of 10,151 was as loud as Jerry Stackhouse’s suit. It was emerald green and the Vanderbilt coach called it his “Gator killer.”

“It didn’t work out so well,” he said. 

Instead, Florida’s much-maligned bubble boys frustrated Stackhouse so much he wasn’t around long enough to see the halftime ceremony, ejected after two technicals and a scolding of the Rowdy Reptiles. 

Florida led by 29 at the half and understandably didn’t play as well in the second half after a lot of the energy had left the building following the halftime ceremony (except, of course, for the roar for walk-on Christopher Sutherland when he made a free throw).

But even in a season of crazy SEC comebacks, there was no chance the Gators were going to blow this lead.

Not on this night. 

The Gators had to win this game, not only for Donovan as much as for themselves. It did them no good in the NET Rankings or Bracketology, but that’s not what this game was about.

It was about a schizophrenic team playing at a high level when it wasn’t the main attraction. You’d like to say it’s a sign of a team maturing, but we’ve been down this road before. 

“Hopefully, it’s a positive step,” White said. “You’d like to put 40 (minutes) together, but for 20 we played with as much maturity as we’ve played with all season.”

Maybe this is too much gushing over a team that won a game against a team that is now 1-11 in the conference. But if you’ve watched Vandy the last couple of weeks, the Commodores were playing like a rejuvenated team.

“We were due for a game like this,” Stackhouse said. “It just snowballed.”

In the corner of the arena where he had been honored, Donovan waited for Kerry Blackshear Jr. to give him a hug as he came off the floor. Blackshear grew up a big Florida fan and remembers those great Florida teams well.

“It meant a lot,” he said. 

There was a lot of hugging going on Saturday night.

And a lot of cheering.

And a lot of effort. 

That includes the people at the University Athletic Association involved in making it a special night.

Special for Billy. 

And special for a team that needed a special night as much as anyone.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Many of us are truly blessed to have ”witnessed it all” along with Billy ‘D’. But that Jerry Stackhouse’s move, getting tossed ’cause he didn’t want any of that ”CHOMP-CHOMP!” was WEAK! Yea, I WEAK! And I will remember that forever, too! And to think he went to UNC. LOL! Like I said, CHOMP-CHOMP!

  2. I said that was ” WEAK!” former North Carolina player, & Vandy Head Coach Jerry StackHouse! And for Coach Billy ‘D’ to reach 500 career wins before his 50th birthday was truly amazing and a stat I’ll always remember, too. Thanks to all who made that special night happen. Truly a blessed night. And SEC Network devoted some time to it, and I appreciated it. Thanks!
    Go Gators everywhere!