Gators' Last Game Mirrors the Season

It was one of those games that showed the weaknesses of the Florida Gators and one of those nights when the weaknesses were too much to overcome. The Gators (25-11) lost to Penn State (25-11) Tuesday night 71-62 in a hard fought battle that ended their season and showed everything the Gators need to improve on to make next season a better one.

It was an up and down the court game with both teams running hard in the first half and taking advantage of the full court. Unfortunately for Florida, it was a night when their shot was off and especially from the three-point line. The Gators made just 5-of-22 shots from beyond the arc shooting a paltry 22.7 percent. Wide open shots weren't going in like they did the previous two NIT wins.

All of this while Penn State had three players play at least 38 minutes or more in the game. The Nittany Lions didn't shoot well from three-point land either hitting 8-of-25 from beyond the arc, but it was the inside play of forward Jamelle Cornley that really showed a Gator weakness throughout.

Cornley scored a game high 23 points and pulled down a game high 12 rebounds as he went over, under, and through the Gator defense on his way to the basket. Florida had no one that could match up inside with the 6-5, 240-pound senior forward.

"He is a phenomenal competitor," Gator Head Coach Billy Donovan said of Cornley. "I say this with all due respect...he is a nasty competitor I love watching him on film."

"He starts with the ball away from the basket. There were times when our guys battled and physically competed and those times he didn't score. There were times when our guys gave up ground and didn't compete...he scored.

Of significance to Donovan was the fact that Penn State is a guard oriented three-point shooting team. Watching the game it was hard to tell that. Gator forwards Alex Tyus and Dan Werner had their hands full with the big man down low.

"The one thing that you look at their team and say the one area they aren't great at is the front court," Donovan said. "They were the best three-point shooting team in the Big Ten. That was my point in how far our team needs to go in the front court. We were playing a team that was able to expose a lot of stuff around the basket."

Hindering the Gators even further on the night was a short bench that was made shorter with the suspension of forward Allan Chaney, an injury to center Kenny Kadji, and a case of the flu with starter Dan Werner who missed two days of practice leading up to the game.

"I was a little concerned," Donovan said. "Dan didn't practice for two days. During college basketball season is the primary time for flu season. I tried to get Dan a few minutes as much as I could. With Kenny having a concussion, that put us with a really short bench. In the front court we had a tough time matching up with (Cornley). I think Dan did the best he could battling. I think Alex did the best he could. But it was a short bench."

The Gators were led on the night by freshman guard Erving Walker who scored 16 points. Alex Tyus missed some close shots near the basket but finished with 15 points. The only other Gator in double figures was All-SEC point guard Nick Calathes who finished with 10 points and seven assists, five of those assists coming in the first 11 minutes of the game. Calathes went 3-of-12 from the field including 0-of-6 from three-point land.

Penn State played just eight players on the night and had four players score all but six of the 71 points on the night. They implored a slow down offense in the second half, forcing the Gators to expend a lot of energy on defense and taking time off the clock to buy themselves a rest on offense.

Guard Stanley Pringle benefited from Cornley's inside play and shot 5-of-9 from three-point land scoring all of his 15 points from beyond the arc.

Donovan got 25 wins out of this bunch of Gators and said after the game, this was about as good as this team could be given all the circumstances of the season.

"There is a standard that has been set by previous teams," Donovan noted and expressing that he wasn't just talking about the two national championship squads. "When your teams don't get to that standard there is maybe a level of them not achieving. I think in a lot of ways they kind of overachieved in some areas. As a group there is a long way they need to go. I think our work ethic from a year ago till now is a lot better.

"There are some physical limitations and I think there are limitations that were out in broad daylight tonight (in this game). I never felt like these guys aren't playing hard or not trying. We had one game we lost by double figures. Every other game we've been in and battled. I think they are who they are and tried to get better. Sometimes, these guys are being judged by what happened previously. I understand that as the expectation here. I think they see it and understand it. I enjoyed coaching them this year, they worked hard and tried. They competed, battled, and fought and I respect that as a coach.

I think we battled, competed, and made some plays. But, when we needed to make a big play or a stop, we didn't do that. Competitively, the growth our guys need to make was evident tonight.

The looming question...

The big question for the moment is "will Nick Calathes bypass his junior season and enter the NBA draft?" Donovan mentioned he has not discussed it at all with Calathes and doesn't know what he is thinking on the matter.

Calathes, when asked about next season often answered questions like he would be back wearing the Orange and Blue. "We need to work on closing games," Calathes said. "I thought we worked hard as a team. Every day we need to work hard in practice. I need to be a better leader and step up...we need to come together as a team."

When pressed on coming back for his junior season, Calathes would not say one way or another.

"I don't know," he said. "It's not what I'm thinking about right now. When it comes down to it, I will talk to my coach and my family and make a decision. I haven't talked to anyone (about it)."

Discuss on the FightinGators.com premium forums


Fightin Gators Top Stories