Donovan happy Gators dealt with adversity

As one free throw after the next clanged off the rim on Tuesday, the Gators watched their lead shrink.

The uneasy feeling in the O’Connell Center increased with every miss. Florida once held a 16-point lead over Texas A&M, and with the lead at 14 points with 1:58 remaining, the Aggies started fouling.

The Gators (15-15, 8-9 SEC) missed eight of their final 18 free throws, and Texas A&M was able to cut the lead to three points with 13 seconds and six seconds left to play. Florida escaped with a 66-62 win after hitting three of its final four free throws to keep the Aggies (20-9, 11-6 SEC) from tying the game, but Florida head coach Billy Donovan is hoping his players learned a lesson.

If they want to be clutch players that perform under pressure, they have to go through situations like Tuesday and learn how to handle them.

“To be a clutch player, you have to go through those experiences,” Donovan said. “They’ve got to make free throws. They’ve got to deal with that. It’s part of their growth, part of their development and being tough minded. It needs to keep happening until they develop a deep internal confidence in themselves that they can make it.”

The problems came mostly from the point guard position. Chris Chiozza and Kasey Hill combined to go 6-17 from the free throw line on Tuesday. Late in the game, Donovan couldn’t have taken both of his point guards off the floor if he wanted to. But even if it was an option, Donovan didn’t sound like a coach that wanted to make life easy by going to the next option.

Chiozza went 4-12 from the free throw line, causing Donovan to say he didn’t “think there’s any excuse for that.” Donovan took Chiozza out of the game multiple times in the last two minutes when Florida was on defense. He wanted to get bigger bodies in the game to run a 1-3-1 defense, hoping to force Texas A&M to pass more and run more time off the clock.

When Chiozza came off the floor, Donovan brought up his free throw line struggles and asked how Chiozza was going to handle that when Donovan put him back in the game at the next dead ball. The Florida coach also said on the bench that he wanted the Aggies to keep fouling Chiozza so he had to handle his struggles.

“Me rescuing them and taking them off the floor is not helping them in some ways,” Donovan said. “You’re almost standing there naked. There is nowhere to escape. That’s the great thing about competition is that you can never escape it when you’re in between the lines and the game is going.”

Even with his struggles from the free throw line, Donovan did like some of what he saw from Chiozza on Tuesday.

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