Florida basketball: Gators defeat Stony Brook ahead of beginning SEC play

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
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The Florida men’s basketball team closed out the early non-conference portion of the 2021-22 season with an 87-62 win over Stony Brook University on Wednesday at the Exactech Arena.

In his fifth start of the season, Phlandrous Fleming Jr. led all scorers with 20 points, while reserve forward Jason Jitoboh provided a career-high 12 points and seven rebounds. The Gators return to action Dec. 29 when they travel to Oxford, Mississippi, to take on Ole Miss in the conference opener. 

Myreon Jones in COVID protocol

Florida received word Tuesday that starting guard Myreon Jones would enter the COVID-19 health and safety protocols and miss the contest against Stony Brook. Phlandrous Fleming Jr. started in place of Jones and led the Gators in scoring, which didn’t come as a surprise to coach Mike White.

“Phlan, we consider him a starter. He’s one of our best players,” White said. “I thought he was the best player on the floor today. Just took advantage.”

But the country’s recent COVID-19 outbreak and its effect on Division I basketball has come as a shock to many. With conference play just around the corner, nearly 40 DI teams are paused as they deal with outbreaks. 

“It’s crazy. You think you’re past it, and you’re not. But it’s everybody — it’s not just basketball or even college basketball, it’s so much bigger,” White said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of it. We’ve got to deal with it.”

Stony Brook Seawolves guard Jahlil Jenkins (1) pressures Florida Gators guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (24) as he drives to the basketon Wednesday afternoon at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center in Gainesville.

But White acknowledged he’s mostly gutted for Jones, who is away from the team and back in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. 

“I feel awful for Myreon. He’s a guy that’s been living in the gym, and he’s ready to just break out and get going,” White said. “We were all ready to see it for him.” 

As the team departs for a brief Christmas break, it would be understandable if White and his coaching staff were concerned of further outbreak with the team away from its Gainesville bubble, but UF’s head coach downplayed any additional risk with traveling home compared with being on a college campus. While the staff has stressed the importance of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, White added there are no current plans to get the booster shot as a team, though they’re all aware of its benefits and the competitive advantage that comes with remaining available. 

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“We’ve had staff conversation about presenting the booster opportunity. That’s where we’re at right now,” White said. “Past that, the diligence, the focus, the discipline — I mean, it’s gotta be guy-to-guy. The guys have got to do their best to give themselves an opportunity as they leave campus. But it’s really not a huge difference when they’re on campus. Our guys are gonna continue to be around other people, and they’ve just got to be smart with their decisions. Everybody does. These guys have a chance to play an SEC schedule. How many of those 18 we’ll play, we’ll see. Hopefully all of them, of course. It’s crazy times.”

Florida Gators center Jason Jitoboh (33) shoots over Stony Brook Seawolves forward Jaden Sayles (23) in the first half on Wednesday in the Stephen C. O'Connell Center in Gainesville.

Career day for Jason Jitoboh

Junior forward Jason Jitoboh scored a career-high 12 points in 14 minutes off the bench Wednesday, marking the latest high point in what has been an impressive stretch as of late. Jitoboh played double-digit minutes in Florida’s previous win, a 66-55 victory over South Florida in the Orange Bowl Classic, but his performance against Stony Brook raised the bar even further. The Abuja, Nigeria, native hauled in a team-high seven offensive rebounds, too, indicating the seldom-used option could be a reliable back-up in the low post as the Gators head into league play. 

“It started in practice. It’s conditioning, it’s a re-dedication to ‘I’m going to make Coach play me, I’m going to help these guys I care about.’ He’s had a really good, say, three weeks, and it’s carried over,” White said. “And he’s got a ways to go, but he’s got a chance to be a good player. Did some good things tonight – wow, seven offensive rebounds. Has to be his best game as a Gator, so hopefully he can build on this.” 

Unfortunately for Jitoboh and the Gators, they’ll have to wait a week for an opportunity to improve on the performance against Stony Brook.

“Some of these guys need a break — Jason needs, you know, it would be better for him if we were right back at it tomorrow,” White said. “He’s got to make some good decisions while he’s away.”

Kowacie Reeves get more play, too

It wasn’t just Fleming who saw an increase in usage with Jones sidelined. Freshman guard Kowacie Reeves Jr. was inserted into the game early against the Seawolves after Fleming briefly exited after taking an errant hit in the mouth. 

Florida Gators forward CJ Felder (1) shoots for two in the first half against Stony Brook on Wednesday afternoon at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center in Gainesville.

Reeves would knock down his first long-range attempt from the corner, but he seemed to rush his ensuing shot attempts, ultimately finishing 3-of-8 from the field, including 1-of-4 from three-point land. Though Reeves would haul in four rebounds and register a steal to go along with just one turnover in 23 minutes of action. The highly regarded signee out of Macon, Georgia, is clearly still coming into his own at the collegiate level, and Wednesday’s performance was another step forward in his progression, said White. 

“He’ll continue to evolve as a playmaker through wipes and face-ups and shot fakes, you know, attacking close-outs,” White said. “He’s got to improve in those areas, and as he improves in those areas it will only help his game become more versatile for us, the way that he can complement those type of things with shot-making. And he’ll get more and more comfortable shot-making. He’s really shot it well as of late. Did some good things today.”

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