Big Men Help Lead Gators to Win

With a two-point lead at halftime, Florida head coach Billy Donovan pulled Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin off to the side before the second half started. His message was clear. Tyus and Macklin, standing at 6-8 and 6-10 respectively, needed to dominate around the glass.

"He just told us to rebound and keep fighting," Alex Tyus said. "He just said, 'let's go.' It was a big game right here, and we couldn't lose it. He was just trying to generate some energy."

The team responded. The Gators outrebounded 45-30 on the night, leading to a 79-66 victory over Florida Atlantic.

The talk with Billy Donovan seemed to wake up the two post players, who were pulled just minutes into the first half for giving up easy baskets to the Owls' frontcourt players. Macklin played on a hurt knee and Tyus is coming off a concussion, but he wanted the two seniors to step up their aggression around the basket.

"He just wanted us to be more aggressive, attack the rim and rebound," Macklin said. "He just wanted us to have more of a stance down there."

The two combined for 14 rebounds in the second half of the game, but more importantly, they shut down Florida Atlantic's frontcourt players. Macklin's 11 rebounds tied a career high.

The Owls low post players, Brett Royster and Kore White, combined for 13 points in the first half. In the second half, they combined for only three.

Donovan took the blame for Macklin and Tyus' inability to stop Royster and White during the first half. A second-half adjustment proved to be the difference.

"The way we told Alex and Vernon to guard (in the first half) was wrong," Donovan said. "They made some adjustments and tweaks in our offense that exploited the way we were guarding. It put Alex and Vernon in a tough spot."

The Owls offense that showed on film was a "high stack set," with at least four players starting above the free throw line as the ball crossed half court. For Tuesday's game, they adjusted it to take advantage of Tyus and Macklin.

Florida Atlantic used wing players to cut towards the basket, which caused Macklin and Tyus to try to help and be out of position. It freed the Owls' forwards up for easy baskets.

"They made some tweaks inside of the set," Donovan said. "We were always a step behind and a little confused. I told them with the second half adjustment that they needed to make sure they were responsible for guarding their guy. They adjusted very well in the second half."

Kenny Boynton led the Florida scoring with 21, going 8-of-15 from the field and 2-of-7 for 3. He was joined in double figures by Tyus with 19 and Erving Walker's 14.

The Owls played with energy in the first half. They were on the wrong end of a 34-32 halftime deficit despite shooting 46.7%. The Florida defense stifled their hot shooting in the second half, holding them down to 37%.

The game also served as a homecoming for Florida Atlantic players Dennis Mavin and Greg Gantt. Mavin is a freshman for the Owls, and he played in the same backcourt last season as current Florida freshman Scottie Wilbekin at The Rock School in Gainesville.

Gantt is a sophomore who led Gainesville High School to the 2008-2009 5A State basketball championship.

Mavin scored 10 and Gantt had 17. Each player estimated having 30 friends and family members in the crowd.

Florida Atlantic head coach Mike Jarvis knows how lucky he is to have the duo.

"If they were a few inches taller, I wouldn't be sitting here with them because they'd be in the Florida locker room," Jarvis said. "I'm glad they didn't grow any taller than they did. Thank you, Gainesville. If you've got any more, let us know."

Jarvis wanted his team to get a win in Gainesville, but the experience and playing Florida tough was important for his young players to buy in. However, he was frank with the real reason his team came to play in Gainesville.

"We needed the cash," Jarvis quipped. "Schools pay a lot of money to beat up on you. It's a lot better to take that bus ride. When you can get paid to take this bus ride and have a chance to grow if you compete… it's great."

Jarvis also said that Florida Atlantic will play Florida in the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic next season.

The Gators now get some time off before traveling to Tallahassee to take on Florida State Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
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