Upperclassmen set the tone; Gators smash EKU

With 10:29 remaining in the first half, David Lee sized up Eastern Kentucky guard Julian Mascoll, who was dribbling the ball on the right wing. Lee timed the dribbles, then suddenly laid out, diving head first for the basketball. The startled Mascoll was able to get both his hands on the ball to keep Lee from taking it away cleanly, but the whistle blew and a jump ball was called. Florida got the ball on the alternating possession rule.

Four minutes later, Matt Walsh laid out to flick the ball away from a Western Kentucky guard, knocking the ball forward to Anthony Roberson who started a fast break that was finished on a dunk by freshman Al Horford.

Two minutes after that, Roberson took the ball on the left wing, dribbled four or five times, then executed a perfect spin move to separate himself from the defender. His short bank shot extended Florida's lead to 24 points.

Those three plays highlighted an attitude adjustment for the Gators that was evident from the opening whistle. With its three upperclassmen leading by example, Florida improved to 7-2 with a 98-49 blowout over Eastern Kentucky at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center with 9,118 fans in attendance.

"For us it starts with our three older guys: Roberson, Walsh and David Lee," said Florida Coach Billy Donovan, obviously pleased with the Gators effort from start to finish. With Roberson, Walsh and Lee playing at a high level of energy, the Gators dismantled an Eastern Kentucky team that came into the game 8-1 including a road win over tough Dayton of the Atlantic-10 Conference.

What a difference three days made for the Gators. Sunday, Florida blew out Georgia Southern by 32 points, but even with the big win, it was if the Gators sleep walked their way to victory. Florida won because it was bigger, faster, stronger and more talented, not because the Gators played with any consistent level of energy.

The energy the Gators lacked against Georgia Southern was abundantly evident from the opening tip Wednesday night against Eastern Kentucky. The Gators got their first two points on the night when Lee kept fighting for the ball. After Al Horford missed his first shot, Lee rebounded and missed the stickback but he gathered in his own rebound and got Florida's third shot of the game to fall. After EKU tied the game at 2-2, the Gators went on a run of 13 straight points that included a driving layup by Roberson, a thunder dunk by Lee as he roared down the lane and a fast break layup by Walsh with 15:45 remaining to put Florida out in front 15-2.

Florida came out of the gate fast earlier in the season against Miami only to have the energy level fizzle, allowing the Hurricanes to get back into a game that they eventually won. This time, the Gators weren't about to let up. They had the Colonels down for the count and they were prepared to deliver the knockout blow early.

"Right from the start, when we were in the huddle and we were up 13-2 or 15-2, I said 'guys this is where we were against Miami' and I said let's keep building on it," said Walsh. "I told them let's not let it be 13-all in a couple of minutes. We never let up the whole game."

The Gators built the lead to 23-10 and then Walsh got hot from the outside, hitting four straight three-pointers to extend the Gators to 37-14. That was the killer instinct the Gators had been missing all season.

Florida closed out the half on a 12-2 run with Roberson scoring on the spin move and a driving layup and Lee getting a dunk as well as a leaning banker when he had to fight off a couple of defenders to get the shot away. Florida's 51-19 halftime lead was the Gators most impressive half of basketball this season.

"I was really proud of the way we kept on going at them and we never let up," said Walsh, whose game-high 23 points came on 8-12 shooting that included 5-8 from beyond the arc.

Lee scored 12 points, pulled in seven rebounds, blocked a shot, handed out a couple of assists and helped the defense with three steals. Roberson's 11-point effort included a steal and a rare blocked shot for the 6-1 guard.

The play of the three upperclassmen got the younger players motivated to match their intensity.

"Those three guys set the stage right off the bat when the score's 13-2 or 15-2," said Donovan. "Now all of a sudden I'm looking down the bench and saying 'you better go in there and play harder than they're playing.' So now our bench is ready to get in there."

The Gators bench is made up of sophomores and freshmen. They took their cue from Lee, the lone senior starter, and Walsh and Roberson, both juniors, to contribute 29 points to the cause, including a season-high nine points from freshman Cornelius Ingram. Fellow freshman Joakim Noah added seven points and eight rebounds.

Horford, who started his second straight game at center, came up with his most complete effort of the year with 14 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots. Freshman Corey Brewer contributed nine points, three steals, two blocked shots and three assists.

"Our older guys gave us a reason to follow them," said Donovan. "Those are the guys who are responsible. They did it."

After Sunday's win against Georgia Southern, Donovan talked candidly about the lack of passionate leadership he was seeing on the floor from Roberson, Walsh and Lee. Three days later, the three big guns responded with the kind of actions that inspired the younger players.

"They have to do that every night," said Donovan. "It adds energy for our team. You can try to lead verbally, but you can't lead verbally unless you lead first with your actions. Your actions have got to set the stage for your leadership then your words can follow. If you don't lead by your actions, no one respects you and no one will follow you when you talk."

The diving effort by Lee early on was indicative of the kind of leadership by example that Donovan wants from his team.

"David Lee needs to play like that," said the coach. "It takes our team to a different level when he's playing that hard. David Lee diving on the floor set the stage for our team."

HOOPS NOTES: The Gators break for Christmas and won't be back into action until next Wednesday, a 1 p.m. encounter at the O'Connell Center against Sam Houston State… Junior center Adrian Moss sat out the game with disk problems in his back. "It's not going to require surgery," said Donovan. "It's going to take a little bit of time for him to rest it." Donovan said that Moss has been trying to play through the pain and because of the continuing problems, he said he couldn't go against EKU … Donovan was an assistant coach at Kentucky when EKU Coach Travis Ford was a player for the Wildcats … Walkons Garrett Tyler and Matt Berry hit consecutive three-pointers in the final minute of the game so that all 12 players dressed for the contest scored… The Gators had 17 steals and nine blocked shots for the night… Freshman Taurean Green led the Gators with eight assists, tying his season high that he got against Florida Atlantic.


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