Florida went into halftime trailing 33-32 after a sloppy first half. Two of their leaders made sure to correct it. John Egbunu and Dorian Finney-Smith combined for 16 of the team’s first 27 points in the second half, carrying the Gators to a 70-50 win over Florida Gulf Coast on Friday night.
“Those guys were really good,” Florida coach Mike White said. “They played with a ‘we’re not going to lose’ mentality despite us having our struggles. ‘I’m going to make big plays for this team,’ John especially offensively and defensively. He didn’t just do it scoring the basketball. John’s ball screen defense in the second half was as good as its been, I thought he was as vocal as he’s been.
“I could hear him loudly and clearly on the other end of the court. He definitely anchored us. John and Doe-Doe overall were terrific offensively.”
The Gators struggled to shoot in the first half, making only 29.7 percent (11-39) from the field. Florida was much better in the second half while shooting 44.1 percent (15-34). The duo combined for 40 points and 19 rebounds with six blocks. Florida had 11 blocks on Friday, its most since 2006 against Florida A&M. Finney-Smith’s 23 points were two away from his career high, and Egbunu had his first double-double at Florida.
Behind the jumpstart from Egbunu and Finney-Smith, Florida got off to a 10-0 start in the second half. The duo combined for the first seven before KeVaughn Allen hit his only three-pointer of the night, forcing a Florida Gulf Coast timeout. The run got as high as 22-5 as the Gators took control of the game.
“The second half, it was obvious. It was second-chance points and points off turnovers,” FGCU coach Joe Dooley said of Florida’s 26-14 advantage in second-chance points and 26-6 advantage in points off turnovers. “When you turn the ball over like we did in the second half and didn’t give our defense a chance to get set, those were the major differences.”
The second half wasn’t only about offense. The Gators held the Eagles to 17 points on 36.6 percent from the field in the second half. The Eagles missed shots and Florida created turnovers, starting fast breaks off steals and missed shots to create easy points. FGCU ended the game with a season-low 34.5 percent (20-58) from the field and a season-high 18 turnovers.
White called it the team’s best defensive half of the season, being in position and getting stops when his team needed them the most.
“We raised our voices a little bit,” White said after the poor defensive first half. “Our guys did, too, with each other. They’ve embraced taking ownership to a certain extent, and we’ve got to take more and more ownership. Our guys understood that it was a poor effort defensively. The things that we can control, we didn’t do a very good job of controlling it in the first half. In the second half, I thought we came out and played arguably our best half of defensive basketball, which is what you’re looking for if you’re trying to max out as a team.
“(The difference) was energy level. Guys just decided to play harder. We were an immature, inconsistent team defensively in the first half. Early second half, Dorian makes a couple shots and gets John Egbunu a dunk on a nice pass. Then all of a sudden, we have more pep in our step. It shouldn’t be like that. We can control our defensive energy level from the tip. That’s what mature teams do, and that’s where we’ve got to get to.
The Gators continued to get questionable play from their guards. KeVaughn Allen and Kasey Hill combined to go 5-21 from the field. Hill didn’t attempt a three-pointer, but Allen went 1-6 from long distance. Backup point guard Chris Chiozza didn’t make the position much better while going 0-4 from the field and 0-2 from behind the three-point line. The two point guards had five assists and three turnovers. Florida had just three assists on its first 10 field goals.
“Just struggling to shoot the basketball,” White said. “We all need to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out how we can help each guy on the roster, each guy on the staff. We struggled from three. We’ve got to be in the gym more, we’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to reevaluate how many threes we’re shooting, who’s shooting them and where we’re shooting them from.
“I didn’t foresee this coming, and maybe we’ll just snap out of it. I’m not sure. We’ve shot the ball much better in our intrasquad scrimmages. We’re searching for an answer.”
The plan was to give the Gators a day off on Saturday after four games in the last seven games. White changed his plan after the game on Friday night, noting that taking the day off is not the solution for fixing the team’s shooting woes.