Gators & Mike White win opener at Navy 59-41

Great defense. Just enough offense to win. No, we’re not talking about the current state of Florida football under first year coach Jim McElwain, but the similarities are remarkable for Florida basketball under Mike White, also in his first year.

Florida’s offense was just good enough to beat Navy, 59-41, in the season-opener in Annapolis, Maryland, Friday night but it was the defense that made the difference and gave White a win in his debut as the Gators’ head coach.  While the offense struggled to find a rhythm and identity, the defense swarmed and disrupted Navy’s patterned offense. Navy shot only 28.8% from the field overall (17-59) and just 21.1% (4-19) from the 3-point line against Florida’s combination of quickness and pressure.

“We’re obviously a lot better defensively than we are offensively,” White said.

The full court press that White brought to UF from Louisiana Tech was marginally successful, but the half court defense was a completely different story. Florida’s switching off screens and pressure on the wigs kept the Midshipmen from ever getting into a serious offensive rhythm and created plenty of indecisive moments as the shot block typically ran down below 5 seconds. The Gators were particularly effective closing out on shooters and getting into their faces and long arms in the passing lanes also created serious problems for Navy. There was no inside game for Navy as John Egbunu (4 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks) was a strong inside presence.

“We’re going to try to be really good defensively because that’s something we can control,” White said.

Over on the offensive end, Florida had problems figuring out Navy’s matchup zone defense, particularly in the first 10 minutes of the game. The Gators needed only 3 seconds to get on the scoreboard, a layup by freshman KeVaughn Allen off a set play on the opening tip. But it was a long stretch between baskets as the Gators were totally out of synch until Devin Robinson scored on a stickback with 12:41 that cut Navy’s lead to 9-4.

That seemed to wake the Gators out of an offensive coma as it kick started a 15-2 run for a 17-11 lead with 7:33 remaining in the half. Florida stretched the halftime lead to 29-19 behind the off the bench contributions of Robinson and Chris Chiozza. Chiozza scored seven straight points including Florida’s first 3-pointer with 2:46 left in the half that gave the Gators a 26-17 lead. Robinson converted a 3-point play the old-fashioned way with 1.5 seconds left in the half for the 10-point lead.

Florida committed 11 first half turnovers, hit only 1-7 from the 3-point line and committed 5 offensive fouls, but on the defensive end the Gators were smothering, holding Navy to 9-27 from the field.

“It wasn’t by design to chunk it in the stands as much as we did,” White said.

As they did in the first half, the Gators struggled out of the gate and managed only 11 points in the first 11 minutes – a 3-pointer by Brandone Francis-Ramirez with 11:20 to go got the Gators into double digits for the half and made the score 40-26 – but again, the defense didn’t slack off. While the Gators had problems putting the ball in the basket, they held Navy to only 4 points in the first 10 minutes as the Gators stretched their lead to as many as 18 points.

Florida could have scored much more in the final 10 minutes but there were struggles from the foul line. Florida managed only 10-19 for the game, plus the struggles from the 3-point line carried over into the second half. The Gators finished the game 20-30 on 2-pointers, but only 3-19 (2-12 in the second half) from the 3-point line. The Gators outrebounded Navy 47-33.

For the game, the Gators committed 19 turnovers while forcing 13 Navy miscues.

Robinson produced a double-double to lead the Gators with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Allen scored 9 and Kasey Hill scored 8 points to go with 5 assists and 2 steals. Dorian Finney-Smith struggled offensively (1-6 from the field and 0-3 from the 3-point line) but he led the Gators with 12 rebounds.

Florida got great production off the bench as the reserves outscored the starters, 32-27.

Next up for the Gators is North Carolina A&T Monday night at the O-Dome. 

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