Florida Gators basketball needs to rebound in SEC play but face challenge in No. 20 Tennessee

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer

Over the final 20 minutes of the UF men’s basketball team’s 70-54 loss at Ole Miss, the Gators lacked mental toughness as shots failed to fall, said Florida coach Mike White. 

White, in his seventh season with the Gators, believes the team can suffer a drop-off in defensive execution following a missed basket — an issue that continues to plague the team. 

Meaning White and Florida’s coaching staff continue to preach the importance of playing with confidence through adversity as Florida prepares for a 6 p.m. tip-off Thursday against No. 20 Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena. 

“We continue to, and hopefully we don’t do it again moving forward, but we give in at times when it’s not going in,” White said. “So we’re going to continue to get in the gym, but a lot of it is mental toughness, it just is. Guys with a lot of mental toughness, with courage, with confidence, tend to shoot it better. That same level of mental toughness in terms of struggling to make shots, it’s also shown in our inability, when things are going against us, to get stops.” 

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In the opening minutes Monday night, the Gators connected on two of their first five three-point attempts, only to finish the contest a dismal 4-of-29 from beyond the arc.

Whether shots rimmed out or missed the mark completely, it didn’t matter – regardless, White said he noticed the defensive effort and execution wane. 

“We were in a switch-all session, and we didn’t switch. I mean, we yelled switch and we got to switch,” he said. “We continue to struggle with adversity. Crowd’s yelling, we’re down, and we’re just not as sharp. It is not the sign of a great team, obviously. We’re going to keep pecking away at it.” 

Florida Gators head coach Mike White gives a thumbs up to his players during a home game in December. After Monday night's loss at Ole Miss, he said "We continue to struggle with adversity."

Myreon Jones has seen his offensive production diminish

Once considered a potential breakout candidate as SEC Newcomer of the Year after averaging 16 points his junior season at Penn State, senior guard Myreon Jones has come off the bench in UF’s previous four contests after starting the first 14 games of the season.

He didn’t attempt a shot in Florida’s comeback win over Mississippi State, nor did Jones score in 21 minutes against the Rebels.

A nearly 40-percent three-point shooter his final two seasons with the Nittany Lions, Jones is shooting just 30.1 percent from long-range this season, numbers that have remained consistent throughout conference play. 

On the defensive end, Jones continues to have active hands — that hasn’t changed; continued misfires will dictate his role.

“We’re playing guys based on production. We’re starting guys based on how we play when they’re in the lineup. We’re evaluating plus/minus with these guys,” White said. “Myreon’s a great guy. He continues to have the same exact attitude whether he was in the lineup leading us in shots or scoring that game, that particular game, or coming off a game like he had the other day. He’s been the same Myreon. He’s really consistent, the same personality, the same presence. He has to continue to fight his way through this.”

On the injury front, it remains to be seen whether junior forward C.J. Felder will be able to compete through a non-COVID illness, which sidelined him in the loss to the Rebels.

With Felder unable to compete, the Gators had just 10 scholarship players available, forcing the team to play all but sophomore Niels Lane against Mississippi. Even if Felder can’t go, the message doesn’t change: misfortune has to amplify the effort rather than diminish it.

“I’m not sure (he plays at Tennessee). He’s dealing with some sickness, he felt awful,” White said of Felder. “This is a split-second game, this is a stay-in-the-moment game, and we’ll continue to focus on executing our stuff offensively and defensively. With (Jones), I believe he’s got some breakout games ahead of him, I just do.” 

Florida’s projected starters

Anthony Duruji     F 6-7   220    R-Sr    9.4 ppg  4.4 rpg

Jason Jitoboh       C 6-11 305    Jr.     3.7 ppg   2.3 rpg

Brandon McKissic     G 6-3   185   Gr. 6.3 ppg   3.3 rpg

Kowacie Reeves         G 6-6   182    Fr. 4.8 ppg 1.2 rpg

Phlandrous Fleming Jr.     G 6-5   205   Gr.  10.6 ppg 3.6 rpg

Tennessee’s projected starters

Kennedy Chandler     G 6-0   172 Fr. 13.3 ppg 3.1 rpg

Santiago Vescovi        G 6-3   188 Jr. 14.1 ppg  4.7 rpg

Josiah-Jordan James     G 6-6   207 Jr. 6.7 ppg  5.5 rpg

Olivier Nkamhoua     F 6-8   223 Jr 8.4 ppg  5.6 rpg

Uroš Plavšić     F 7-0   240 Jr 4.7 ppg  3.3 rpg

Notes: Thompson-Boling Arena can be a daunting visit, and the Volunteers have capitalized on it this season as Tennessee is 10-0 at home to begin the 2021-22 season. … Although he continues to travel with the team, Gators forward Colin Castleton is expected to miss the contest with the Volunteers as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury. Castleton, Florida’s leading scorer and rebounder, has missed UF’s previous three games. … It will be a return of sorts for Florida’s new starting forward, Jason Jitoboh, who graduated in 2019 from Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Volunteers starting forward Uroš Plavšić, who is shooting 61-percent on field-goal attempts this season, also graduated from Hamilton Heights Christian Academy, in 2018. 


When: 6 p.m.


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