The final score wasn’t indicative of the game the Florida Gators played against the Tennessee Volunteers on Wednesday. Tennessee took a 22 point half time lead and built the lead to 30 points in the beginning of the second half. The Gators were lucky to cut it to 14 by the time the bell sounded at the game.
“They beat us in every facet of the game,” Florida head coach Mike White said on the Gators IMG Sports Network post game show. “Hats off to them, Rick Barnes did a terrific job. They beat us one-on-one, they exploited the fact that we weren’t in help positions, weren’t in our gaps at times, we missed several block outs, transition defense was porous to say the least.
The Volunteers were led by super scorer Kevin Punter who finished with 26 points and 18 in the first half alone.
The Gators were also out-rebounded in the contest by 8 boards. That number was a bit misleading as the separation between the two teams was in the high teen’s midway through the second half. That shouldn’t have happened with a team that was much shorter and less adept at rebounding coming into the game.
“Defensively and on the glass it was hands down the worst performance of the year,” White said. “I don’t understand and am searching as a coach how we can come into tonight with the opportunities that we had and not play with the same character and mental makeup and mental and physical toughness.”
For Florida it was a huge struggle shooting the ball, especially from the point guard position. Sophomore Chris Chiozza and junior Kasey Hill shot 1-12 and added just four points between them. But they also got poor play inside from sophomore center John Egbunu who was an uncharacteristic 4-10 for eight points and against a much shorter team.
Tennessee spent all night doubling and tripling inside on Egbunu and the Gators couldn’t answer often enough with an outside shooting game.
Junior forward Justin Leon did show up a little on offense going 3-5 from 3-point land, an area where the team really struggles. Leon certainly helped his stock with that kind of shooting percentage from beyond the arc. He finished with 11 points, but just two rebounds in 18 minutes of play.
The highlight for the Gators was probably the play of Dorian Finney-Smith with a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds on the night.
“Justin hit three 3’s, but that’s not what we are counting on him to do,” White said. “We would like to see him defend at a high level and rebound better than he did tonight. The transition defense and back flow that he played with in the press has to be at a higher level.
“Dorian Finney Smith… I am glad he got five offensive rebounds. He kept fighting. We fought somewhat to the buzzer and made it respectable to 14 points. It could have been really ugly.
White didn’t want to not give the Volunteers credit and at the same time, was very disappointed and felt like his hard fighting team did not show up on Wednesday night.
“Tennessee was good,” White said. “They beat us and were the better team. They got about 90% of the loose balls, we got a few late… it just wasn’t us. I am very disappointed in our effort tonight.
“Some of it had to do with Tennessee punching us in the mouth from the tip, but the overall effort and mindset wasn’t there.”
White said he could sense a bad night coming before the game and let them know well before tipoff.
“We had a subpar shoot around,” he said. “We had a conversation about it not being easy tonight. They would be sadly mistaken and having a very negative outcome and screaming at halftime. That is what happened and it is very unfortunate.”
Still scathing from watching his team get dismantled and on national television, White is determined not to let it happen again.
“We will watch this tomorrow,” he said of the game tape. “I will enjoy watching it. We will get everything out off of our chest that I want to get off my chest for sure. We will learn what we need to learn, especially from an effort stand point. I will continue to have conversations with these guys and let them know that I don’t care who plays. To be a high level championship, at least level program, a program that will be in the conversation, for us to get Florida basketball where it was a couple of years ago, we have to do a 180 from what we saw here in the last two hours.
“I don’t care if we had a few shots go in (late). The positives are extremely outweighed by the negatives. The things that this team can control, this team has done a very good job controlling, we’ve been mature form that standpoint despite being an inexperienced team. Tonight we got none of that. The things we can control, we didn’t.
“I expect a knockdown drag out practice tomorrow or we are going to do a bunch of conditioning. We are going to get something out of tomorrow. We have to find five guys that are ready to fight at the tip. Win or lose, that mentality is not who we are going to be as a basketball program.”