3 takeaways from Florida Gators men's basketball team's 64-58 loss to No. 12 LSU
Another slow start
Florida’s 64-58 loss to LSU seemed avoidable at multiple junctures, starting with the opening minutes of the contest.
The Tigers took an early 9-2 lead over UF, withstood the Gators’ rally and pushed their advantage to 30-16 with 5:55 left before half on Eric Gaines’ 3-pointer.
For all Florida did well in the second half, the early disparity on the scoreboard was disheartening for coach Mike White, who pointed out the veteran-heavy Gators are struggling with intensity from the opening tip-off, forcing UF to claw back in situations that seemingly could have been avoided with greater energy.
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“If it’s not weighing on us right now, then something is wrong. We talked about this in the preseason,” White said. “We played really hard in the second half. Mentally, we have to get tougher. It’s a little bit of a surprise with a team this old.”
The Gators committed eight turnovers in the first half and were out-rebounded by the Tigers, though UF did manage to affect multiple shot attempts around the rim, resulting in seven first-half blocks.
Although the same issues continue to rear their head, senior forward Anthony Duruji was adamant the team continues to improve despite three losses in as many tries to open Southeastern Conference play.
“I think we are improving. Like I said, it’s a long season. We are playing good teams, but we are a good team too. We know how capable we are and how much potential we have. We just have to continue to get better,” Duruji said. “It was a close game, but it’s hard to win. We have to learn how to win. We have to continue to piece everything together. We are getting closer, but we just have to keep on climbing and trusting the process.”
Charity stripe woes
Following the season-opening win over Elon University, I asked Florida coach Mike White about the team’s free-throw shooting — the Gators had just gone 16 of 29 from the line in the 13-point victory, which was possible cause for concern, yet White was confident he had an above-average free-throw shooting team in the building.
But Florida has continued to leave points at the line in abundance, including recent performances of 18 of 28 and 19 of 28 against Alabama and Auburn, respectively, and Wednesday night’s showing was of greater disappointment.
UF split its attempts at the free throw line, going 11 of 22 from the charity stripe, including a putrid 4 of 11 in the second half.
That’s not going to cut it against top-20 competition — especially when trying to dig out of a 14-point hole — and the Gators knew it in the immediate aftermath of defeat.
“We can be soft mentally at times, and it shows on some of the looks we had and with the way we shot at the foul line,” White said. “We have to get tougher, period.”
Duruji, one of three Gators to miss all their free-throw attempts Wednesday, concurred with his head coach, saying the team must approach the line with greater mental fortitude and confidence.
“I think it’s all mental,” Duruji said of the woes at the line. “Like I said, we have to be confident. We are good basketball players. We just have to get better. We have to be confident in ourselves and knock down free throws and open shots. It’s definitely mental, but it’s a long season.”
Mike White's team struggling from the line
Florida still believes it has talented free-throw shooters, but time is running out for the Gators to prove it during consequential moments.
White said the team’s free-throw shooting continues to be an area of emphasis in the preparation aspect, though he’s not against altering the routine — again, that is — in the hopes of finding greater success when the lights go on.
“There’s not 10 minutes that go by in a practice without us stopping and doing a free-throw drill. We’re going to continue to do it,” White said. “We might change up the drill. We have, but we might change it up again. In my guys’ defense as well, I’ve got a bunch of guys that come to the gym on their own, spend time in the gym. We’ve got some high-character guys that care. But I think that — again, mental toughness, confidence, swagger — whatever you want to call it, we just got to improve with this group. As a staff, we have to figure out ways we can try to help these guys step up and convert. I mean, 4 of 11 in the second half when the game’s on the line. Just empty possession where you’re executing, you’re connected, getting the right looks, and whether it was an open three or a free throw, we couldn’t finish those possessions.”
Appleby absent late
Florida’s issues at the free throw line begged another question: where was Tyree Appleby?
The senior guard, who had arguably his best performance of the year in the second half at Auburn, played just six of the final 20 minutes and didn’t attempt a shot from the free-throw line or from the field. Appleby is UF’s most efficient shooter from the charity stripe — at one point in the season he’d made 40 of his last 41 attempts — but he was stuck on the bench when the Gators needed a bucket from anyone not named Colin Castleton.
It may have been at least in part due to Appleby’s issues with ball security.
After turning it over twice in the first 20 minutes of play, the former Cleveland State transfer recorded his first turnover just 20 seconds into the second half. Appleby sat from 16:58 remaining until 11:12 remained on the clock, though once again he turned it over less than a minute into checking back into the game.
He was substituted out at the under-eight media timeout for the remainder of the contest and would finish the game with a season-low 19 minutes of action.
Who: Florida at South Carolina
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
TV: SEC Network