It was miraculous for Florida to even be that close at that point of the game. It was another high effort outing for the Gators who kept the Aggies 9 points under their season average, but the Gators let too many balls get away in the contest.
Coming from behind from a 10 point deficit with 8:16 left in the second half, Florida chipped away slowly, but could never get the lead back because of two big issues in the game, turnovers and free throws.
The Gators came into the game averaging an SEC best 10.4 turnovers a game, but gave the ball away to the Aggies 16 times on Tuesday night.
“It was kind of uncharacteristic for us,” Florida head coach Mike White said. “Credit Texas A&M’s defense. Coming into this game, we were a little bit unique in that offensively we really simplified our game plan. That is (to commit) no live-ball turnovers, that is it. That is the biggest key by far and away.
“With some of the offensive deficiencies that we have, we thought that might help a little and thought it might be the biggest key for us. Transition defense for them, as good as they are in the open floor. Setting our press, transition defense off of misses. Rotating and scrambling off of rebounds, all of those things were important. But, to get them out in the open floor off of poor decisions from us offensively, it didn’t give us a chance. I say that and we had chances late, but if you come over here with (just) 10-11-12 turnovers, we might be sitting here with a win.”
The other big Achilles heel in this game is something the Gators have a definite issue with and one that has gone on all season long. The Gators shoot a horrible 61.6% from the free throw line on the season and Tuesday night, that dipped to 33.3% on 4-12 shots from the charity stripe.
“I am at a loss in terms of free throws and our approach with how we move forward and shooting better. Maybe we just stop shooting them altogether in practice. In my guys’ defense it isn’t for lack of effort or reps, but to come on the road and beat a god team in the SEC you have to shoot a lot better than that, 33%.”
On Saturday, sophomore center John Egbunu made four key free throws down the stretch to help seal the victory over a very talented LSU team. Egbunu isn’t a good free throw shooter by any means averaging 56.7% from the free throw line on the season. He did hit 2-3 on the night while the rest of the team went 2-9.
“A lot of decisions go through your head late in the game,” White said. “And I am not sure what the right ones are. If a guy steps up and makes two big free throws for you, then it was the right decision.”
The Gators shot 44.3% from the field Tuesday. Not a really bad number, but you would like that number to be higher. From the three-point line, they had one of their better days going 10-26 for 38.5%. That is a number you would take every game.
Conspicuously absent from the scoring Tuesday was freshman guard KeVaughn Allen who was coming off of five straight double digit scoring efforts and seemed timid to pull the trigger against the Aggies. Allen went 0-4 from the field and didn’t score in the game.
“We took a guy out late in the game to try and get KeVaughn Allen back in when you are down three, even though he has been sitting down a little bit,” White said. You hate to have your most electric scorer sitting there when you are down three. He didn’t get an opportunity, but late in games, especially tight games, there are tons of decisions to be made.”
One big reason for Allen’s issues was Aggies’ senior guard Alex Caruso who is the leading career steals and assists player in the SEC.
“I would like to credit Alex Caruso,” White said. As a staff we call it blowing up your play. We try and be random with denying a pass or two at times. Alex Caruso has incredible instincts. He rotated from the corner to the elbow and caused a turnover in the first half as well. He is very good in that regard. He kind of throws you off your rhythm offensively. That was a factor.”
But Allen hit a wall of sorts in the game, maybe expected of a freshman, but White needs him to get over that.
“Another factor is KeVaughn, he’s had a few games like this where you are challenging him to shoot it,” White said. I pulled him over at one point during a foul shooting situation and told him how badly we need him to shoot the basketball. I thought he passed up 2-3 open ones to drive it and I’m not sure the results were as good as if he had just jumped up and let it fly. We aren’t good enough offensively to not have him and Dorian not be aggressive for us. Regardless of what their percentages are, they have to be real aggressive for us.”
Despite the negatives and the loss, Florida went on the road and played a top 14 team and almost came away with a victory and a couple of reasons they were really in it were senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith and junior forward Justin Leon.
Finney-Smith scored 17 points, going 4-6 from the free throw line. He also tallied 12 rebounds. Leon had his third big game in a row, scoring 16 points and hitting on both of his three-point attempts.
“We lost the foul game of course and the free throw game significantly,” White said. “It is part of the game. It is definitely a factor, as it always is. I will say that a couple of guys, especially Dorian and Justin Leon, played a lot of minutes with four fouls and I thought that they played intelligently and were very solid with their decisions. It allowed them to log minutes and give us a chance to play productive minutes with four fouls.
The Gators travel Saturday to take on Ole Miss at 8 p.m. and the game will be televised live on ESPN2.