Donovan Upset As Gators Go Sloppy In 2nd Half

By the time the first half mercifully came to an end, the Florida Gators had proven Tuesday night that just because you don't see Walsh, Roberson or Lee on the O'Connell Center floor doesn't mean there is a talent vacuum. The Gators still have plenty of people who can score, rebound and play pretty good defense.

Talent wasn't the issue for Division I Florida, which opened its quest for an eighth straight 20-win, NCAA Tournament season with an 86-48 exhibition game victory over the NAIA Division II Embry-Riddle Eagles before a crowd of 7,222 at the O'Connell Center. The Gators were simply overwhelming in a first half that saw everything from perfect execution of the basic fundamentals to sheer athleticism that the Eagles will not have to see again this year.

Florida played the big bully in the first half, outscoring the Eagles 44-10 in the final 15 minutes to streak to a 53-17 halftime lead. The Gators played that first half with the kind of intensity that Coach Billy Donovan was looking for in Florida's first chance to go against someone other than themselves in the practice gym.

The first half was just fine. It was the second half that soured his mood. The Gators went from playing like a team with plenty of raw talent, speed and athleticism to one that looked like a team that is dominated by seven freshmen and sophomores among the nine scholarship players who dressed for the game. With senior Adrian Moss sidelined for another six weeks with a knee injury, the Gators were very, very young.

"Our guys played a great, great first half," said Donovan. "I was really proud of them. We defended well, they were 1-10 from the three-point line, we scored 53 points, we moved the ball and we had balanced scoring. There were a lot of good things in the first half."

There were good things like Joakim Noah and Al Horford playing solid defense and scoring on the inside on a variety of dunks and short range shots. There was Lee Humphrey hitting four three-point shots in the first half and Taurean Green with six first half assists. Freshmen Walter Hodge and David Huertas showed a nice touch from beyond the arc, both hitting open three-pointers. Chris Richard helped dominate the boards and Corey Brewer picked up where he left off last year, all over the court defensively and quick and explosive offensively.

"As pleased as I was with them in the first half, I was just that disappointed in the second half," said Donovan. "I thought we really showed a sign of immaturity in the second half."

Florida started the second half in similar fashion, scoring the first seven points to stretch the lead to 60-17 but that's when boredom set in. Embry Riddle outscored the Gators 31-26 in the final 18 minutes of very sloppy basketball.

"I didn't like our focus there and to me as a coach it gives me something else to get on them about and that's the reality of it," said Donovan. "I'm not blind or creating stuff. We turned the ball over 12 times and we didn't take advantage of the break as well as we needed to and our defensive focus wasn't there."

The way the Gators played in the second half will serve as a learning curve opportunity for Donovan and his coaching staff. Florida will use the Wednesday and Thursday practices to iron out the problem areas before the Gators take the court again for exhibition game number two Friday night against West Florida at the O'Connell Center. The Gators play their first game that actually counts next Wednesday night at the O'Connell Center against St. Peter's.

"I'm happy they did that in the second half because you know what?" he asked rhetorically. "I got all the ammunition I need to go right after them tomorrow and they know it and that's the good part of it. That's what this is all about right now."

The turnovers were indicative of the sloppy nature of the second half. For the game, the Gators had 20 turnovers and Donovan called that number unacceptable, particularly against an outmanned team like Embry-Riddle, which didn't have a player taller than 6-7. There were times the Gators had a lineup that had 6-8 Chris Richard, 6-9 Al Horford, 6-11 Joakim Noah and 6-9 Corey Brewer with Humphey running the point.

Noah had a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds but he also had a game-high six turnovers. Brewer had seven points, three rebounds and four assists but he had five turnovers. The bulk of Florida's turnovers came when the Gators were getting out on the fast break.

"We had so many lost opportunities out in transition that may not have led to a turnover but we didn't take advantage of an easy opportunity," said Donovan.

"I don't know if you can say that's okay because you play hard and playing hard offsets everything," said Donovan. "You have to play hard with a level of execution. There is certainly balance and I don't want to ever take away their emotion or enthusiasm for playing … I'm not trying to beat them down but at the same point we can't have what we had in the second half.

"The reality is a week from tomorrow we open up and we better change our disposition in terms of being able to handle a lead, handle a game and in terms of our maturity and our focus."

Humphrey had 15 points and Horford 13 for the Gators. Richard led the Gators with 11 rebounds. Horford had 10 rebounds. Horford blocked five shots and Richard blocked three.

Florida shot 55 percent from the field (33-60) and outrebounded Embry-Riddle 50-31. The Gators were 10-26 from behind the three-point arc with Humphrey leading the way with a 5-9 effort. The game was played under experimental rules with the three-point line moved back nearly a foot to the international distance.

GAME NOTES: Horford said he hurt his ankle in the first half so he had problems elevating in the second half. The injury is not expected to cause any lost time for practice or games … Humphrey wasn't bothered by the change in distance of the three-point line. "The biggest thing you have to do is just make sure your feet are behind the line so you're shooting a three-pointer and not a two," he said. … Hodge is originally from Puerto Rico. He played his final two years of high school basketball at Florida Air in Melbourne where he led his team to back to back state championships. Hodge said there are plenty of outstanding basketball players in Puerto Rico but "most of them never get a chance to come play in the U.S. There are a lot of great players down there though." … Noah played in the Rucker League in New York over the summer. His improvement, especially on the offensive end, he said, is the result of playing in that league. "Going back to New York and playing at Rucker helped me a lot," he said. "It helped me get my swagger back."

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