The redshirt junior guard even said on Saturday that he still isn’t 100 percent healthy. That didn’t look to be the case against Mississippi State.
Carter led Florida with 20 points, one off his season high, in a 72-47 win over the Bulldogs. It was Florida’s 20th consecutive SEC win and 19th consecutive SEC home win.
“It’s definitely a weight off my shoulders,” Eli Carter said. “It feels good being healthy and being able to help my brothers. I’m just trying to stay healthy now, honestly.”
The points were good for the Gators, but for head coach Billy Donovan, it’s never about that.
He wanted to see Carter get better in other areas of the game. He showed capable of that on Wednesday at South Carolina. Despite going 2-5 from the field and scoring just six points, he had three assists, took multiple charges and made unselfish plays. It was progress when the offense wasn’t going.
On Saturday, it was more of the same. Carter had three assists, one rebound and one steal to go with his team-high points.
“This is a game where his shot was going in,” Donovan said. “It’s always easy to be engaged in a game when you’re making shots and it’s going well offensively for you. I’m trying to get him over and through that. He’s a smart player. When he’s out there, he’s almost like another point guard out there mentally. He’s got really good vision, he’s got a good feel and knows how to play.
“What he’s got to do is, if he doesn’t shoot the ball well, that’s part of the game and we’ve got to get those other things from him. In the past, he has not done that. I think he’s working hard and trying to become that.”
The game created positive momentum that Carter’s teammates are hoping to see him carry on the offensive end of the floor. It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Gators. Despite what the 25-point win may make it look like, Florida had question marks coming into the game. Michael Frazier has been ill and only played 22 minutes with six points, Chris Walker battled cramps all game and Jon Horford remains off the team.
Florida needed a player to step up and carry the team, and it came from Carter, who scored a total of 24 points in his last seven games played.
“I’m happy he’s back healthy,” said Dorian Finney-Smith, who chipped in with 16 points and six rebounds. “He’s playing more freely and back to playing Eli Carter basketball that the team knows he can play. He can pass, he can shoot. He’s just a smart player. He’s a vet and he knows what it takes to win.”
After battling multiple foot injuries and strep throat this season, Carter is hoping he’ll have some good luck on the injury front. When he was being interviewed on the court by the Florida radio crew after the game, Carter joked that it was two straight games without an injury and jokingly added in a fist pump.
He understands the frustration with his injuries, and he’s hoping that it’s over.
“I feel like I help in a lot of ways,” he said. “My experience, and it’s not even with my scoring, it’s mostly just with my experience.”
With the injuries has come inconsistency. Donovan even joked after the game that his shot chart over his career looks like an EKG, and he needs to be able to consistently produce the way Florida needs him to.
On Saturday night, he showed that it’s possible when he’s fully healthy.