Kurtz everywhere in Florida win

Jacob Kurtz blends in during warm ups. Nothing about him looks spectacular or impressive.

But put him on the floor in a game situation, and the walk-on produces. Friday night was just another example in a 61-56 overtime win against Louisiana-Monroe, his second career start.

The box score doesn’t usually tell the whole story for Kurtz, but on Friday, it did. The senior had six points, 13 rebounds and three assists while going 2-3 from the free throw line. In his last two games, Kurtz has 21 rebounds against frontcourts much bigger than his 6-6, 210-pound frame.

“He was awesome tonight,” Billy Donovan said. “He really was great. He made a couple great plays. He kept a couple rebounds alive and got us some extra possessions, tipped a ball off a guy’s hand. He had a couple big defensive rebounds.”

In the bigger picture, Kurtz is a portrait of what Donovan wants from his players. He’s unselfish, always makes the extra pass and you rarely find him walking anywhere on the floor. He knows one speed, and that speed is a big reason why he tends to be in the right position when the Gators need him the most.

With 15 seconds left and a 3-point lead, Kasey Hill missed his second free throw and the ball bounced off the rim. Kurtz, the only Florida player lined up to rebound, attacked a group of three Louisiana-Monroe players, knocking the ball off one of the Warhawks and out of bounds, giving the Gators the ball back to shoot free throws again.

With 1:18 left in overtime, it was Kurtz at the top of the key that found Jon Horford wide open under the basket. Horford set a screen to get Michael Frazier open, but the Louisiana-Monroe defense collapsed to the shooter, leaving Horford alone for the dunk to give Florida the lead for the final time.

“He gets it,” Donovan said of Kurtz. “He’s the one guy on the team that really, really gets it. He understands what this is all about and has a real clear-cut understanding of what goes into winning. A lot of these guys don’t.”

Kurtz first learned about his 13-rebound game when he spoke to the media in his press conference after the game. He said the last time that happened was “maybe” in high school, but even then, he wasn’t positive.

“Some of them were fortunate,” the soft-spoken Kurtz said. “They just fell into my hands. I’m just trying to do my job and help my team win.”

Ask his teammates about him, and they don’t blink an eye. They almost act like they’re surprised to hear the question because they expected his performance all along.

On a team that’s still the furthest thing from a finished product, Kurtz has been the glue. Forward Dorian Finney-Smith remains out with two hairline fractures in his hand, and guard Eli Carter missed Friday’s game with a foot injury that could be Lisfranc injury or a mid-foot sprain. Forward Alex Murphy won’t be able to play until the middle of December because of transfer rules.

Then there’s the list of scholarship players that won’t see the floor this year -- center John Egbunu (NCAA transfer rules), guard Brandone Francis (academics) and forward DeVon Walker (torn ACL).

Amidst the long list of players out, Kurtz’s emergence and stability has been important.

“We’d probably have two losses (without him),” Florida center Jon Horford said. “He does so much, makes so many winning plays. He’s great on the boards, he gets little loose balls, tips balls away and takes charges. He does everything. He does what we need and what teams need to do to win. I can’t say enough about him. The dude has been spectacular. He has probably been our best player.”

Guard Michael Frazier added, “He’s a major part to this team. He’s playing great for us right now, had a great game tonight. He was a major part of why we won the game. He’s an everyday guy. He’s confident in the game, very consistent. He’s producing right now, and we need him to keep doing that.”

On a team that is frustrating Donovan with its arrogance and lack of understanding of how to win, Kurtz is the breath of fresh air. And without him, the Gators would be in a world of trouble.

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