Mike White knew Tuesday night was possible. It’s why he spoke to the team about it multiple times during the last two days of practice. They could’ve practiced and played with the necessary energy, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Instead, they struggled to play with the defensive intensity despite finishing off an 89-65 win over Jacksonville on Tuesday.
“We had Christmas-itis, and that’s all we’ve talked about for the last 72 hours,” White said. “It’s disappointing from that aspect because every time between the lines you have a chance to get better and take another step forward. If we want to be average, then we accomplished that tonight. If we want to be a really good team, we didn’t take a positive step tonight.”
The defensive scouting report against Jacksonville forward Darius Dawkins was a perfect example. The Gators talked all week about making him put the basketball on the floor and step inside the three-point line. The Florida players didn’t do that. They gave him too much room to shoot from the perimeter, and he went 4-6 from behind the three-point line.
In 35 minutes of play, Dawkins had 16 points. It might not sound important in a 24-point win over a struggling team, but White sees that becoming a problem down the road in conference play.
“If you do that night in and night out, you’re not going to be real successful in the SEC,” White said.
To get that message across, White started the second half with Dorian Finney-Smith and Devin Robinson on the bench. He wasn’t happy with their energy level on the floor and wanted to send a message. Finney-Smith admitted to it after the game, saying he should be the one leading the team in energy.
“Coach challenged me and Devin Robinson, I think we responded well,” Finney-Smith said. “We came out in the first half with low energy. We did a great job responding. I did a poor job of (having energy) in the first half, not coming out juiced up. I’ve got to find ways to motivate guys and myself a lot better.”
Finney-Smith checked in with 15 minutes left in the second half and the Gators went on a 23-5 run over the next six minutes with the senior scoring 10 points. He finished with 13 points, two rebounds, one block and two steals.
“You’re pleased with it but if you play 19 minutes, let’s play 19 minutes really hard,” White said. “Dorian is capable of being an all-league player. He’s our leader. We ask him to be consistent.”
Freshman KeVaughn Allen led the Gators with 15 points, a career high despite going 0-4 from behind the three-point line. Center John Egbunu had 14 points and five rebounds. Freshman Kevarrius Hayes played 17 minutes and had nine points with seven rebounds.
But the frustrations continued for White when the game was over.
“I don’t mean to be all negative,” White said. “You just want to finish on a high note and head into Christmas break on a high note. We just talked so much about intensity level and maturity.”