"The three guys who carried us tonight were David Lee, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson," said Donovan following Florida's 83-51 victory over a Sam Houston State team that had played Marquette and Oklahoma State tough on the road until the very end. "While the rest of our team didn't maybe play great, those guys carried us and not just from a scoring standpoint --- but also from a focus standpoint, a readiness standpoint and a passionate standpoint…
"The rest of our guys saw them and it put them on edge."
Where the edge showed for the Gators (8-2) in this game where 52 fouls were called, was on the defensive end of the court. Sam Houston State had led Oklahoma State at the half and for 30 full minutes due to knocking down the threes. The same was true for the BearKats' game with Marquette. The three-ball that the BearKats needed against Florida just wasn't there. A combination of lock-down defense on the perimeter and too much stopping and starting due to the inconsistency of the officiating contributed to 1-14 shooting behind the arc for Sam Houston State.
"We just really felt three-point line was extremely critical," said Donovan. "They had a couple of decent looks, but I thought overall we did a pretty good job of defending the three."
The stop-start nature of the game because of the steady flow of foul calls had an effect on the offense of both teams.
"It was brutal," said Matt Walsh, who scored 21 points for the Gators. ""With all the fouls it was hard to find a rhythm offensively, but we did a good job defensively."
Two games ago, against Georgia Southern, the Gators won by 32 points but they didn't play particularly well defensively, and certainly, they didn't defend the three-point line. In the Gators' two losses to Miami and Louisville, Florida's three-point defense was practically non-existent.
"I thought our guys are getting a better concept of trying to take the three-point line out of the game," said Donovan, who noted that Florida tried to key on the BearKats' best three-point shooter, Joe Thompson. Thompson, who had a 5-11 night from behind the arc in Sam Houston State's most recent game, a win over Arkansas State, was 0-6 against the Gators.
There were eight fouls called in the first three minutes, setting an odd, inconsistent tempo for the entire game. Without a chance to get into a good flow, the Gators were unable to pour it on the BearKats. Roberson, who led the Gators with 22 points, scored seven points in the Gators opening 13-4 salvo, and at the half, he and Walsh combined for 27 points as Florida led, 40-23, but it was almost a boring half of basketball. There were enough quick and sporadic bursts of scoring to let you know that this could be a game with a thoroughbred tempo, but the nature of the officiating put a lid on it.
Florida's offense was handicapped by the foul trouble of its big men. Freshman Joakim Noah would foul out, but by game's end, all the Gators' inside players had at least three fouls. The Gators did hit 53.6 percent from the field for the game and 6-14 from the three-point line, but Lee was Florida's only big man to break double figures.
"It's tough with all the fouls," said Lee, who had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. "We had a lot of rotation problems [because of the fouls] and that put us in a lot of situations we weren't used to, but that could be good for us down the road. At one time we had four guards in there, so the offense bogged down because no one really felt comfortable with what we were doing. We'll learn how to do that, though, and we'll adjust."
Sam Houston State kept hanging around and keeping it within rally range until the final eight minutes of the game when the Gators finally wore the BearKats down. Florida had too many talented big men for the BearKats lone interior star, 6-11 Eddy Fobbs, to handle, and from the perimeter, the Gators had too many shooters.
"We were down six with four minutes to go at Oklahoma State (third ranked nationally)," said SHS Coach Bob Marlin. "Oklahoma State does not have the interior game that the University of Florida has. They don't have a presence inside with a guy who's as good as David Lee.
"I like (Al) Horford and Noah and (Chris) Richard and what they bring inside. Oklahoma State is very well coached, but we held those guys to 42 percent from the floor but we didn't do that tonight. I think Oklahoma State and Marquette are right there around Florida. I think those teams can go very deep into the NCAA Tournament."
Donovan sensed that Lee is beginning to play with a different intensity, a kind of edge that comes from the realization that four years have flown by quickly.
"I told him time is running out on you," said Donovan. "When David Lee plays on edge and plays concerned, he's on edge and ready. The urgency that there is no tomorrow affects our whole team in a positive way.
"David as a senior needs to have a level of urgency every night, that it's one last game, one last chance that I get to play here. He needs to say, Sunday, it's going down and it's going down quickly, that I am not letting one last opportunity pass by."
Sunday, the Gators will face arch-rival Florida State in Tallahassee in their last non-conference game before the Southeastern Conference Schedule begins. "
"The talent level [we face] will change considerably this weekend," said Donovan, who called Florida State's roster one that has "top ten talent nationally." Donovan noted that the Seminoles have wings Anthony Richardson (6-9) and Von Wafer (6-6), both of whom were McDonald's All-Americans, center Alexander Johnson (6-11) is "as talented a big man as we'll see," and that guards Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann both made numerous All-America teams.
"They're a huge rival," said Lee, "and beating them would be a great tuneup for us before we start the SEC schedule. They've got a good team and we have to be ready for them. We've got to play hard."
Donovan said that he'll be pleased if the team comes out with the intensity and passion that he feels they need to find consistency and success at the upper levels.
"One of the most un-enjoyable things of this job is when you have to coach and you see the team not playing passionately," said Donovan. "In the last two games we have have played passionately. It all starts with David Lee, Roberson and Walsh."