Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If one play could sum up the season opener for the UF men’s basketball team, it would be Gators freshman Patric Young flying through the air and catapulting over the back of UNC-Wilmington’s Ahmad Grant.
Trying to block Grant’s shot late in the first half, Young instead was called for a foul as he fell hard to the court.
“He’s a tough dude,’’ teammate Kenny Boynton said. “He has a lot of plays like that in practice. He is going to get it right.’’
It was that kind of youthful energy and overzealous effort that Gators coach Billy Donovan will talk to his team about before UF’s game on Tuesday against No. 4-ranked Ohio State. However, Donovan left the O’Connell Center late Friday night pleased with the Gators’ aggressive approach in their 77-60 victory over the Seahawks.
“Their effort was there. Now we’ve just got to get a better understanding,’’ Donovan said. “I’m happy with the win, but I think there’s a lot we’ve got to get ready and prepare for right before Ohio State. I think there is a lot we can learn from this game as it relates to our defense and our press.’’
In winning their 20th consecutive season opener – and 15th in a row under Donovan – the Gators had their way with UNC-Wilmington after falling behind by five (11-6) early in the first half. By halftime, the Gators were up 37-26, and they later opened their biggest lead, 71-47, on Young’s first career basket with 6:39 left.
Ten different Gators scored, led by senior Chandler Parsons’ 16 points. Alex Tyus added 13 points, and Boynton and Erik Murphy each added 10.
Freshman guard Scottie Wilbekin scored only three points, but Wilbekin added a team-high five assists and four steals in 17 minutes. The four steals were the most by a Gator freshman in his debut since Corey Brewer had five against Jacksonville on Nov. 19, 2004.
Wilbekin’s performance was as impressive as any Gator due his energy and the fact he missed several recent practices and the second exhibition game due to a strained neck.
“A-plus performance,’’ Boynton said of the 17-year-old Wilbekin’s college debut. “I think he came with a lot of intensity. He finished around the rim, he gave good minutes on defense, plus he just livened up the team when he got into the game.’’
Donovan probably has a tougher grading scale than Boynton, but he also what he saw from Wilbekin.
“I felt like after the first couple of weeks of practice that he was going to be a guy who was going to play for us and be able to be helpful,’’ Donovan said. “It’s pretty impressive what he’s done being, really, in a lot of respects, a senior in high school. He’s pretty effective. I think he is going to really, really help.’’
Wilbekin played locally at The Rock School in Gainesville. He had several friends and family members at Friday night’s game. Wilbekin said he didn’t know how much he would play prior to the game.
But once he entered, Wilbekin quickly made a twisting lay-up to add to his freshman highlight reel, showing no signs of any lingering symptoms from his neck injury.
“I’m feeling good. I’m at about 90 percent,’’ Wilbekin said. “I’m not expecting anything right now. Whenever I’m out there, I’m just going to play my hardest. I would say it was pretty good [debut]. I had one turnover, so that’s the only negative.’’
The Gators’ press forced UNC-Wilmington into 20 turnovers as their depth wore down the Seahawks as the game wore on. Donovan rotated players in and out, and true freshmen Young, Wilbekin and Casey Prather all played 12 minutes or more.
“They come in and they have a presence in terms of physically competing, banging and doing some things,’’ Donovan said. “We have an ability I think to be able to wear down some teams.’’
On offense, the Gators committed 15 turnovers, something Donovan pointed out were too many. He also hopes to see better shot selection on Tuesday when the Buckeyes come to town.
But overall, the ninth-ranked Gators seemed content with the way they played in the opener.
“It was good,’’ Parsons said. “Obviously, it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t near perfect. We have a lot of things to clean up It was good to get out there and get a real live-game situation.
“The best thing is, we played really hard, but I think we almost played too hard in some points, not being disciplined on every play, silly turnovers, jumping in passing lanes … little things we’re going to see on film and ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing?’
They’ll try to answer those questions in practice the next few days.