Freshmen steal spotlight in exhibition win

Florida coach Billy Donovan had the luxury of quick hooks in an exhibition game. When the effort wasn't where he wanted it, veterans found themselves sitting on the bench. The freshmen brought energy and excitement off the bench while also combining for 50 points as No. 10 Florida secured a 101-71 win over Nebraska-Kearney.

"I was much, much more pleased with our freshmen," Billy Donovan said. "After coaching those guys for three weeks, in a lot of ways, they don't know what they're doing. They're committed to working hard and trying to get better. They're committed to the game.

"I questioned our older guys' commitment to defending and rebounding like we need to. That was the disappointing part to me. I'd rather have those younger guys out there making some mistakes, but they are just really getting after it and giving you everything they have."

The inconsistent efforts earned inconsistent minutes for the starters. Erik Murphy played 19 minutes while Patric Young played 21. The highest number of minutes for a starter was 24 for Scottie Wilbekin.

Part of that could have been by design in an exhibition game, but the results on the field were clear. The freshmen were just more productive.

"As a team, we've got to get better. As upperclassmen, we've got to get better," said Florida senior Kenny Boynton, who had 14 points. "As a group, we played bad. We should've got a better leader with better intensity. We didn't rebound good. We've got to get better."

Will Yeguete was the only returner that played up to his talent, posting 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Without a player taller than 6-7 on the roster, Nebraska-Kearney totaled just three fewer rebounds. The 32-29 margin in Florida's favor was another sign to Donovan that his team didn't bring the intensity necessary.

To get his point across, Donovan turned to the reserves. Early in the second half, Donovan left Boynton on the floor as the only starter, with Will Yeguete and three freshmen — Michael Frazier II, Braxton Ogbueze and DeVon Walker — on the floor. Donovan called it the smallest team he could put on the floor, but the excitement of the young lineup earned success.

The Gators were up by nine points when that lineup came to the floor, but it sparked a 10-2 run that helped Florida put away the game.

"That's the smallest team we probably could've put out there," Donovan said. "Those guys didn't seem to have a problem rebounding and defending at the level we need to, and the game got blown open from that point."

Frazier was a big reason why the game turned into a blowout. The freshman led the team with 21 points on 8-10 shooting from the field and 5-6 from behind the three-point line.

As the game wore on, his confidence grew. Frazier grabbed a loose ball in the paint during the second half, and despite Boynton screaming for him to back it out and start a new possession, Frazier lowered his head and went to the rim, making a layup and getting fouled in the process.

Frazier said after the game he didn't hear it. He was in a zone during his first game in a Florida uniform.

"It felt great to get out there for the first time and play with my teammates," Frazier said. "They did a great job of finding me. I just made shots.

"Coach did a great job of preparing us as a team for our first game. We handled it well. I wasn't nervous at all. I felt like I had prepared for it, so it was nothing to get nervous about."

The excitement from the Florida freshmen had Donovan optimistic, but the frustration on his face was hard to miss. The older players didn't come out ready to play, and it showed from The Opening tip. Timing caused issues in getting the ball to Patric Young, and Mike Rosario led the team with four turnovers and played sloppy on defense.

It wasn't the effort Florida was hoping to showcase.

"Careless turnovers," said Boynton, after Florida turned the ball over 11 times with eight in the first half. "I didn't even understand some of them or what we were doing on fast breaks. Some of them, we just need to take the ball out and get into the offense."

The defensive effort wasn't there, either. Donovan was unhappy with his team allowing 71 points to a Division II team. It has been a concern long before Thursday night.

Donovan didn't have much doubt that his team was going to be able to score this year. The questions came in defense and rebounding. Neither were answered against the Lopers.

"I was really disappointed with our defense," Donovan said. "These first three weeks, we spent an enormous amount of time breaking down tape and showing our guys edits and video of every aspect of our defense.

"From a talent and size standpoint, we had a huge advantage over them. We just saw time and time again our older, veteran guys getting beat off the dribble and not rebounding the basketball. We had a +3 rebounding margin against a Division II team."

Worse for Donovan, the questions aren't about athleticism or talent. They're about will and desire to play defense and crash the boards.

"I'm much more concerned about our team's commitment to doing the things necessary for our team to get better.

"I still think we have good potential defensively, but I was really surprised, disappointed and bothered with how we played defensively as a group tonight. I am extremely alarmed and concerned about our team on that end of the floor and our team's commitment to that end of the floor."

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