Alex Murphy suffered a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his right foot during Florida’s 89-42 exhibition win over Palm Beach Atlantic, which will cost his 4-6 weeks to open the season.
The Gators started DeVon Walker at small forward, Dorian Finney-Smith at power forward and John Egbunu at center during the exhibition game and will likely stick with that in Friday’s opener (9:30 p.m., TV: CBS Sports Network), but Murphy was going to be an important player coming off the bench. The fifth-year senior will contribute at both forward spots when he returns, but until then, the Gators will have to piece it together at the positions.
First-year coach Mike White already knew his team would lean heavily on Devin Robinson. The sophomore has improved his rebounding throughout the offseason, and he showed it by grabbing 10 boards in the exhibition win after posting a high of seven rebounds last season. He’ll be counted on more in Murphy’s absence, but White also said freshmen Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone could get reps at the power forward spot.
The most disappointing part of the injury for White was seeing a fifth-year senior go down during his final season. Murphy has only played in 59 career games between Duke and Florida, and the setback will cost him some of his final year of eligibility.
“It’s really unfortunate for Alex,” White said. “He’s coming into the year as a fifth-year senior without a lot of experience. Here comes another hit for him, and he’s really been in a good groove shooting the basketball. He’s as much of a leader as we have on this team. (He) brings it vocally to practice every day more than anyone. We’ve actually noticed already without him on the floor in practice a lower decibel level, guys not quite communicating at the level they were when Alex was out there. Very unfortunate for our team but mostly for Alex.”
It now falls on the players to make up for Murphy’s loss. His leadership on and off the court was an important aspect of the team, and while he’ll still be around the Gators in practice, they can’t replace how vocal he is during games. He’s also a good player in transition, something the Gators figure to be in a lot with the fast pace White wants to play.
“Murph was a pivotal piece to this team, a leader, senior, great rebounder, just a great all-around player,” DeVon Walker said. “Other guys are going to have to step up, starting with me, D-Rob, a lot of guys.”
FREE THROW PROBLEMS
The Gators were so poor from the free throw line in the exhibition game that White had to gather himself before talking about it earlier this week, letting out a sigh and saying “oh my goodness” before getting to the issue. Florida went 10-27 from the free throw line, but White said he didn’t want to make too much of a big deal about it with his team because of just one game. He didn’t want to hurt their confidence or make them tense at the free throw line in the next game.
“Pray more, I guess,” White joked about improving the free throw shooting. “Before we even play our first game, I don’t want to make it a huge deal. I don’t want it to become just so mental for our guys. We shoot a lot of free throws in practice, we shoot them sometimes before practice, sometimes we shoot them after practice. A lot of times we shoot them during in practice when we’re huffing and puffing and we have a full lather so we try and get as many game reps as possible.
“You just hope that the percentages you shoot in practice would carry over to the games, so I’m not ready to just jump to a conclusion to early that it’s a major issue for us yet. I’m hopeful that we can correct it for Friday night.”
POINT GUARD PLAY
Florida point guards Chris Chiozza and Kasey Hill combined for 20 points (7-11 FG, 1-2 3PT FG), 10 assists and five turnovers. Chiozza had four of the turnovers, and the team had 23 turnovers with 15 of them coming in the first half.
Taking care of the basketball has been the emphasis for the entire team as it prepares to face Navy on Friday, but outside of that, White saw some good and bad from his point guards in the exhibition game.
“Way too many turnovers, just some missed post feed opportunities,” White said. “Defensively, Kasey Hill had a couple of fouls he shouldn’t have committed in the first half. Chris Chiozza had a tough first half with a few of his decision and turnovers, but I did think Chris in the second 20 minutes was very good. I thought he was really good the other night in the second 20. Of course what you want is 40 minutes of consistent play from both of them.”