That comfort came back to bite the Gators, ending their 33-game home winning streak with a 69-67 loss to the Hurricanes.
Florida was outscored 31-15 over the final 9:02 of play. Miami guard Angel Rodriguez scored 22 of those 31 points. Rodriguez went to halftime with two points and felt even worse than that. He credited his teammates for keeping him upbeat during the second half.
Rodriguez was Kasey Hill’s responsibility, and after playing well against him in the first half, Hill couldn’t do anything to slow him late. Hill even fouled him on a three-point attempt and committed a foul away from the ball.
Hill has made steps as a defender this season, but there’s still a long way to go.
When the game was close, Rodriguez wanted the ball even more. After he missed a 3-pointer and Miami got the offensive rebound while trailing by two with 32 seconds left, coach Jim Larranaga called a timeout to set up a play.
When the team got to the huddle, there wasn’t much of a play to draw up. Rodriguez wanted the ball in his hands. He didn’t come off a screen or take a defender off the dribble. He dribbled around behind the three-point lane, waited until he found some daylight and launched the shot.
That three gave Miami a 68-67 lead with 16 seconds left, and Eli Carter was called for a charge on the other end of the floor to end any Florida hopes of a win.
“Rodriguez made some very difficult shots, tough shots,” Donovan said. “He took over the game. He was the difference in the game there.”
The loss came with a shorthanded Florida roster. Chris Walker was serving the final game of his three-game suspension, Dorian Finney-Smith was out with two hairline fractures in his hand and the Gators continue to wait for the return of Alex Murphy in December. That’s three bodies standing at least 6-8 that were taken away from the Florida roster on Monday, and only six scholarship players were able to play.
“We had a walk-on, four scholarship players and two freshmen,” Donovan said. “I got to say this, I was surprised we were even in the game. I thought our guys did a good job and our effort kept us in the game. When our effort diminished and we lost that intensity, that’s when their talent level took over against ours. That’s what I thought the difference was.”
The bright side for Florida is that it has the potential to use this game and improve going forward. Donovan spoke before practices even started about how much his team had to improve and understand what went into winning. On Monday night, that was even more evident.
“As painful as it is for me, not that I want to see our guys lose, but they need to learn what really goes into winning,” Donovan said. “As much as that’s hard for me to say, they don’t have a clue or an understanding.”
INJURY UPDATE: Dorian Finney-Smith tried to work out in shoot around today, but he couldn’t use his hand for anything without pain. He wasn’t able to play on Monday, leaving Florida with six scholarships players to face the Hurricanes.
“I was concerned about throwing him out there in a game like this and prolonging the recovery process,” Donovan said. “He wasn’t fighting to get in the game. He just knew he couldn’t.”
Finney-Smith is unlikely to play on Friday when Florida hosts Louisiana-Monroe at 8 p.m. The SEC Network will televise the game.
Chris Walker returns from a three-game suspension and will play on Friday.