Gators Roll After Slow Start

There were times during the first half Friday where Florida head coach Billy Donovan wanted his team to slow down. The offense was out of control to start the game, and the shots weren't falling. It took time for the team to settle down, but they rode a late first half push to a 77-60 victory over UNC Wilmington.

The emotion of the first game of the season took the No. 9 Gators out of their offensive flow. At one point early in the first half, Florida played defense for 30 seconds, only to turn the ball over early in their next possession. Passes were forced and possessions were wasted, something Donovan puts on his point guard, Erving Walker.

"I want Erving to take more charge of our team and our offense," Billy Donovan said. "There are times where we get out on the break, and the ball isn't in his hands. He needs to take more command of going to get the ball and settling us down. There has to be a better awareness from Erving to put the ball under his armpit and say, "whoa."

The Gators started the game 2-of-9 from the field, rushing shots and having bad possessions. It took the insertion of freshman point guard Scottie Wilbekin into the game for the offense to wake up.

After coming in, Wilbekin led a fast break where he passed up a layup to allow fellow freshman Casey Prather to get a dunk. Wilbekin then got a steal, got fouled and made a layup. He would make the free throw to convert the three-point play. The 5-0 run in a matter of seconds gave Florida all the momentum and tied the game at 11.

Wilbekin ended the game with three points, five assists and four steals. His layup was his only shot from the field in 17 minutes, but he controlled the offense and created opportunities for his teammates.

"I felt comfortable," Wilbekin said. "I just felt at home."

Wilbekin said he is 90% after suffering a neck strain in the first exhibition game against Florida Tech. He was held out against Georgetown College, but the injury didn't effect his play Friday.

"It's pretty impressive what he's done being in a lot of respects a senior in high school," Donovan said. "He's a good defender and a tough kid with good speed. He's going to really help (the team)."

After the slow 2-of-9 start from the field in the first half, the Gators followed by going 3-of-3 to jumpstart the offense. They finished the first half shooting 50% from the field and 33.3% for three.

Donovan's issue with his team during the two exhibition games was their lack of energy coming out of halftime. They stormed out on a 10-4 run to start the second half, pushing Florida's lead to 47-30. This time, it was UNC Wilmington head coach Buzz Peterson calling the timeout, not Donovan.

"We came out with the right energy and mindset, and we built on the lead," Donovan said. "We set a pretty good tone."

The balance this team has showed Friday. Each starter scored at least nine points, with Chandler Parsons leading the way with 16.

"We had good balance, and that's going to be our whole thing this year, playing unselfish and making the extra pass," Parsons said.

Kenny Boynton wasn't able to capitalize on his improved shooting in exhibition play. He went 0-4 in the first half, with all of his shots coming from the outside.

When he realized that wasn't working in the first half, he made an adjustment. He only went 2-of-5 in the second half, but he made an effort to get to the basket, often times ending in contact to put him at the free throw line. He was still able to score ten points, despite being 2-of-9 from the field and 0-of-6 for 3.

"I feel like I missed wide open shots," Boynton said. "All of that was on me. I don't feel like I forced anything. I was just missing tonight. It was just one of those nights."

Alex Tyus had 13 points and seven rebounds. Eric Murphy chipped in with ten points, going 4-5 from the field.

Freshman center Patric Young played only 12 minutes and scored two points, 1-of-3 from the field. He had one rebound and one assist. Young seemed out of control at times on the floor, and Donovan realizes the need for him to adjust.

"In high school, he was the biggest, strongest, toughest and everything was brute strength," Donovan said. "He's having to learn how to play the game because he isn't the strongest and baddest all the time on the court. He's got a lot of growing to do. He plays hard and he's real vocal, but he has to continue to evolve on the frontcourt for us. He adds something to our frontcourt physically that we need."

When the buzzer sounded to end Friday's game, the Florida players' mindsets changed immediately to No. 4 Ohio State, who comes to Gainesville on Tuesday. The players said they will re-watch the film Saturday morning and start preparations soon after.

"That is the whole focus now-- Ohio State," Parsons said. "We can't have silly turnovers like we did last night or be undisciplined on defense. Expectations are high for both of us. It's going to be an exciting game."
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