Noles Overpower Gators

The Florida Gators knew they would struggle with their lack of size and experience heading into this season, and after starting the year with five straight wins, their weaknesses were finally exposed in a 65-51 loss to Florida State.

The Gators (5-1) suffered through a miserable shooting night, making just 21-of-54 shots - 38.9 percent. But it was behind the arc that they really felt the pain. Florida made just 4-of-23 from three-point range. The Gators were also killed on the boards, getting outrebounded 39-28 by the Seminoles.

"We know that rebounding was going to be an issue for us all year long," head coach Billy Donovan said after the game. "I don't think anyone looked at us and said that we were going to be a great rebounding team."

Both Florida and Florida State exchanged baskets for the first eight minutes, but then the Gator shooting woes really kicked in. Trailing 15-9 with 9:52 left in the first half, the Gators went nearly four minutes without a field goal and only made two shots in the next seven minutes. With 5:38 left in the first half, FSU led 31-12 and eventually took a 34-21 lead into the locker room.

"We settled in, but we didn't make shots, and we had decent looks," Donovan said. "It's something that we've talked to these guys about that when we don't shot the ball well, we still have to give ourselves a chance to win. Tonight, clearly with a lack of productivity offensively, we gave up transition fast breaks, and we were dominated on the back board in the first half."

Florida allowed 23 points off fast breaks or second chance baskets in the first 20 minutes, and Donovan said he thinks the lack of offensive production hurt their defensive effort. The Gators shot just 36 percent in the first half and were a lowly 1-of-4 from the free throw line.

"Our lack of offense affected our energy on defense," Donovan said. "We did not have the maturity or the mental toughness to battle through a woeful shooting night and have that internal fortitude to make stops and keep it an ugly low scoring game and find a way to keep it close."

The Seminoles were able to take Marreese Speights out of the game, holding the Gator big man to only two first half points. Speights also spent seven first half minutes on the bench after picking up an early foul. He finished with a season-low four points. It was the first this season he was held to single digits scoring.

"Speights getting into some early foul trouble was the game changer," FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton said. "He wasn't able to get into the flow, and he's a lot to handle on the block. Him getting some early fouls made the biggest difference in the game."

"I would have loved to get the ball into Speights more," Donovan said. "He's got to learn that you can't be finesse all the time and there are going to be times where you have to get in there and bang and compete. It's not going to be as easy as out jumping people."

Speights wasn't the only Gator to struggle offensively. Freshman guard Nick Calathes was held to just seven points – more than eight points less than his season average. Calathes spent 10 minutes of the first half on the bench because Donovan was unhappy with his offensive play.

"I sat him intentionally," Donovan said. "I would have sat him the whole half if I could have. We've got to be able to run offense. There's a time to be aggressive offensively and make reads of the defense. And then there are times where you can have a negative impact on our team."

Donovan felt that Calathes took too many ill-advised shots and wasn't patient on the offensive end in the first half.

Junior guard Walter Hodge led the Gators with 11 points and was the only Gator to make more than 50 percent of his shots. Hodge was able to narrow the Seminole lead to 11 points early in the second half, but then was called for a technical foul and the Gators quickly fell behind by 15. In fact every time the Gators made a run at the Noles and got the crowd back into the game, Florida State and their senior guard Jason Rich made a big shot halting Florida's momentum.

"I thought Jason was coming off some sub-par performances, but I thought he realized that to come into here against a team that is playing very well, he had to play up to his fullest potential," Hamilton said. "Jason, I thought, did a nice job stepping up and playing a complete game. He set the tone for the other guys."

Rich led all scorers with 20 points.

For the Gators, Donovan hopes his young team can learn from the Florida State loss.

"I think it was going to happen," he said. "These kids have never been through it. Going on the road at Ohio State, at Kentucky, at Tennessee, at Arkansas, there are some teams we are going to play going forward that will determine how much we learned from tonight. I've got to find a way as a coach to get them what they need through words."

But there's not much Donovan's words can do to improve Florida's youthfulness and lack of size inside.

"This is the hand we're dealt with," Donovan said. "This is who we are and who we have. We're going to have to be as physical as we can be. I'm anxious to watch the film. If Chandler Parsons is giving everything he's got and he's being overpowered, we're going to have to deal with that."

Florida will have a chance to rebound from their first loss of the season when they face Stetson at the O'Dome on Tuesday night.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


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