The Florida Gators men’s basketball team traveled to Tallahassee this evening to take on rival Florida State. In what was expected to be a tough road match-up, the Gators first true road test of the young season, the Gators came out swinging and never let up blowing them out 72-47, the Seminoles third consecutive home loss.
Florida State looked nothing like the team that blew through the ACC last season to become league champions for the first time in school history. Instead, Florida looked like the championship team, certainly deserving of their number five ranking this week, and, though it’s early, possibly a threat to go even farther in the Big Dance than their back-to-back Elite Eight squads of the last two seasons.
In another balanced scoring effort, the Gators were led by Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton with 14 points apiece. Michael Frazier added 12 points off the bench and Patric Young chipped in with 10.
The Gators went on a 12-2 run to open the game and never let their foot off the gas pedal in the first twenty minutes finishing the first half with a 35-15 lead. It was the third time this season the Gators held an opponent to 15 or less in the first half. The Gator’s dominated the Seminoles in every statistical category you could imagine in the first half. The Gators had an 18-2 edge in points in the paint and a 20-5 edge in points off turnovers. The Seminoles ended the half with more turnovers (13) than field goals (5). About the only thing that went wrong for the Gators in the first half was they were a mere 2-13 from three point range, yet led by twenty points. Insane. Incredible. Domination.
The crazy train continued to roll out of the halftime break as Kenny Boynton opened with a three, the Gators went on an 11-2 run which became a 15-4 run to lead 50-19 with just over six minutes gone in the second half. The Gators lead eventually ballooned to 37 points with eight minutes left in the half before Donovan began clearing the bench. From the there the Gators coasted to victory as the road crowd quickly became a home crowd for the Gators.
The Gators domination was so complete, Dick Vitale tweeted late in the second half:
“Right now best team in SEC is FLORIDA & I am not talking football – check out their score vs FSU – yes even die hard BBN fans would agree .”
Not bad for a team that lost almost half it’s scoring from last season’s Elite Eight team when starting point guard Erving Walker graduated and one-and-done freshman Bradley Beal left for the NBA.
The Gators dominated every aspect of the game outrebounding the Seminoles 33-26 while forcing 22 turnovers with 14 steals and two blocks. The final score was actually closer than the game itself. Defensively, the Gators continued their suffocating defensive prowess. They came into the game ranked second in the nation in average points allowed at 48 and for much of the second half it was doubtful if the Seminoles would reach 40. The Gators mixed a stifling zone with their press to harass the Seminoles into a poor shooting effort at 34.8% slightly above the Gators season average of 33.7%
“I feel like Florida State’s very organized in terms of what they do offensively,” head coach Billy Donovan said after the game. “And I think that what we try to do is just be disruptive to that flow. I thought the zone was effective for us in both halves, and I thought our press was effective for us.”
In addition to his game high 14 points, Boynton added four rebounds, three steals, and one assist. Patric Young continued his stellar post play with a game high eight rebounds and one monster second half slam that sent the Seminole faithful headed to the club early.
Scottie Wilbekin starting for the first time this season due to Murphy’s injury status, had a monster game with five points, a game-high five steals, five assists, and 2 rebounds. Athletic forward Will Yeguete contributed six points, six rebounds, two steals, two assists, and one block. Both of those players continue to play outstanding defense keeping opponents from getting comfortable in their half court offense.
“He’s (Scottie Wilbekin) a great defender,” Donovan said. “He and Yeguete can guard a lot of different positions and a lot of different people. I thought Scottie individually did a very, very good job.”
The one guy that had a surprisingly good night for the Gators was senior guard Mike Rosario who finished with a game high 14 points on 6-10 shooting, 2-4 from three point range with two steals, two assists, and, perhaps more importantly, only two turnovers. Rosario, who had long been in Donovan’s doghouse for his erratic play which at times was out of control, played much more disciplined tonight and Donovan was pleased with his performance.
“I was happy for him (Rosario),” Donovan said. “I think the one thing with Mike is he can be streaky some times, this just happened to be one of those games where he shot the ball well. I thought he gave us a very good lift offensively in the first half because the game was very, very physical, it was hard to come by baskets for both teams. It was tough to finish around the rim. Mike is probably the one guy from the perimeter that bailed us out some.”
Erik Murphy, playing limited minutes due to a hip pointer he suffered against Marquette, helped out with nine points and seven rebounds. Freshman Michael Frazier continued his stellar play off the bench chipping in twelve points, two rebounds, and one assist.
Overall the Gators shot a fantastic 49.1 percent from the floor for the game and the only real negatives were their poor outside shooting (30% from three point range) and their double-digit (15) turnovers.
“We had some pretty decent three point looks,” Donovan said. “We did not make any of them.”
“The one thing that I was disappointed with our team,” added Donovan. “I thought at times we got a little careless with the ball.”
With the unexpected road rout, the Gators moved to 7-0 on the season while the Seminoles fell to 4-4. The Gators made easy work of an early season schedule which looked tough at best before the season began. Fans are left to wonder if the Gators are really this good, or did they catch all these good programs at a down time? As the game was winding down, ESPN analyst Andy Katz tweeted:
“The more Florida plays, the more Gators look like one of the best teams in the country. Two Elite 8s in a row no fluke for core group.”
The best part of this team may be the balance they have in all aspects of their game. They don’t have to rely on one or two guys like in past years. They can get scoring from anywhere on the floor and they all play tough defense full or half court.
“Our sum, our total is maybe bigger than one or two individuals and that’s a good sign of a team,” said Donovan. “I think collectively as a group we all complement each other very, very well.”
Indeed they do. And this team may yet have what it takes to reach the loftiest of their preseason goals: to improve on their consecutive Elite Eight appearances this season.
The Gators are off until December 15th when they continue their difficult road schedule taking on the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson. Tip off for that game is 10 pm eastern and television coverage has yet to be announced.