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Saturday November 10, 2012Magical Night in Mayport Cut Short; Condensation on the Court Ends Gators Opener vs. Georgetown

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

MAYPORT, Fla. -- Alan Verlander stood in the middle of the basketball court atop the USS Bataan surrounded by reporters.

The time was 10:45 p.m., about an hour before the executive director of sports and entertainment for the city of Jacksonville figured he’d be speaking to any media Friday night.

“Everybody did their job,” Verlander said. “The first 20 minutes went flawlessly.”

The second 20 minutes, though, did not go at all.

The much-anticipate Navy/Marines Corps Classic on the USS Bataan was canceled at halftime with the 10th-ranked Florida Gators leading Georgetown 27-23 because the court became unplayable due to condensation that made the floor slippery and far too dangerous to play on.

No sooner had officials announced the game had been “called,” the court started glossing over like a fogging car window.

“I have no idea,” UF coach Billy Donovan said when asked if his team had won the game. “I’ve never even heard of games not being completed.”

As far as the record books go, it’ll be as though the game was never played.

But no one among the crowd of 3,500 will ever forget the unique and inspirational experience this game -- even half of it -- delivered on a clear and chilly (and eventually moist) night at Naval Station Mayport.

“Everybody would have loved to finish the game, I get it -- but the game was secondary,” UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “What happened on the court did not detract one iota from what happened here tonight; the atmosphere, being part of it, the buzz, the excitement. Every fan out here could not believe what they were a part of, and I know the players felt the same way.”

From the presentation of the colors to a rendition of “The National Anthem” like few had ever seen to a group of sailors taking the re-enlistment at mid-court during a first-half timeout -- then shaking hands with the players and coaches from both teams -- the night was special.

Even if the ending was not.

“Our guys are not in life or death situations,” Donovan said. “But the thing that stands out to me is the sacrifice, the unselfishness, being a part of something bigger than themselves, putting their lives in the hands of someone else. ... I think those are messages you try to get across to your team. Obviously, not at this level. Our guys aren’t going to war. ... The discipline, focus, attention to detail, they’re all things we want to see our basketball team do.”

Donovan got to see his team attempt those things for a half, outside in 54-degree weather and minus a starter (suspended point guard Scottie Wilbekin) and key reserve (forward Casey Prather).

Will Yeguete started at the small forward spot, playing it for the first time in his career, and led the Gators with eight points on 4-for-5 shooting and cleared a team-best four rebounds, too.

“I’m trying to improve my offense,” Yeguete said.

Forward Erik Murphy had seven points, with a pair of threes, to go with three rebounds.

UF shot 45.5 percent from the (dry) floor (10 of 22) and went 3-for-10 from the arc.

Without Wilbekin, the Gators turned to senior shooting guard Kenny Boynton to play the point. He finished with six points, making a pair of 3-pointers, but had more turnovers (4) than assists (3). Donovan, though, didn’t put all those turnovers in Boynton’s lap.

“I think Kenny did a good job,” Donovan said. “I think the execution, the screening, the timing on things sort of put him at times in bad situations. Some of those turnovers were not his fault.”

The UF staff went into the game wanting to see a commitment to defense and rebounding and had to be happy with Georgetown hitting just 10 of 28 shots (35.7 percent) and winning on the boards 16-14. Forward Otto Porter led the Hoyas with seven points.

There probably were some halftime adjustments and coaching points made by Donovan at the break, but the Gators didn’t get a chance to implement them.

All they got to was 15 minutes worth of warm-ups.

Then came the call, courtesy of both coaches, the officials and the city of Jacksonville.

“It was the right decision, no question,” center and Jacksonville native Patric Young said. “We were all trying to help wipe it down, but what’s that saying? We were just chasing our tails.”

Now the season opener becomes Sunday’s 3:30 game against Alabama State at the O’Connell Center.

This one will just be a special memory. A glorious 20-minute scrimmage those fortunate enough to have seen will never forget.


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