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Friday November 8, 2013Gators Struggle Defensively, but Get Career Night From Prather in Opening Night Win

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The inclination may have been to think Billy Donovan was poor-mouthing about his team’s preseasons struggles on the defensive end of the floor. 


Then came the Florida Southern exhibition. 


And now he has tape from the 2013-14 season opener to hold over his players’ heads. 


“I was really disappointed in our team tonight,” Donovan said after the 10th-ranked Gators not only let North Florida back in the game, but let the Ospreys hang around before finishing off a 77-69 win Friday before 10,550 at the O’Connell Center. “That’s about as disappointed as I’ve been.”  


Forward Casey Prather scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Guard Michael Frazier, cleared to practice just two days ago after fighting mononucleosis, came off the bench to score 19 points and grab nine rebounds. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill finished with 15 points and four assists in his official college debut. 


But what Donovan locked in on afterward -- and for good reason -- was how the Gators (1-0) frittered away an 18-point lead late in the first half by allowing the Ospreys (0-1) to score the final 11 points of the period, nine of them on a trio of 3-pointers, and trailed just 37-31 at the break. 


“We did a bad job of closing out the first half,” Prather said. 


Flashback: Division II Florida Southern buried 13 of 30 (43.3 percent) in an exhibition game exactly one week earlier, forcing the Gators to put extra emphasis on defending the arc during practice the last six days. 


“We came into the game and Coach told us, ‘Don’t give up 3s,’ ” Hill said. “In the first half, we gave up 3s.” 


Five of them on 11 attempts. 


Good thing the Gators went 17-for-19 from the free throw line (making their first 17) or Donovan’s half-time tirade may have torn paint off the locker room wall. 


“Sometimes, we’re just lost out there,” said Donovan, who last year had the luxury of an older, senior-laden team with players like Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario who possessed seasoned basketball IQs that several in this new group just do not have yet. “We are light years away from being a good defensive team. We’re light years away from being a ranked team.” 


The Gators looked it in the second half. 


UNF closed the gap to five points early, but the Gators, behind the hot hands of Frazier and Prather (16 of 25 from the floor between them) slowly took the margin back out to as many as 19. 


Hammer time, right? 


The Ospreys scored on six consecutive possessions and kept the game in single-digits virtually the rest of the way, finishing with nine 3-pointers, including five from guard Beau Beech (16 points). 


When Hill hit two free throws with 28 seconds left, Florida led by 10. But nine seconds later, two UF players were caught guarding the same player and Dallas Moore hit an open trey to make it a seven-point game. 


“Those kinds of things never happened to us last year,” Donovan said. 


The Gators didn’t get out-rebounded very much last year either, but the smaller Ospreys won 37-35 on the glass, with senior center Patric Young in early foul trouble and finishing with just two points and two rebounds. Senior forward Will Yeguete wasn’t much better (2 points, 5 rebounds).  


But those kinds of things will be on the practice docket in the coming days as UF gets ready to go on the road Tuesday night and face 20th-ranked Wisconsin, a program known for great defense and the best home-court advantage in the Big Ten Conference.


The Gators won’t bring senior guard Scottie Wilbekin or transfers Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris on that trip, as all three remain on the suspended list for violating team rules. 


And if UF doesn’t bring better and smarter defense, it’ll be a long night, a long flight home and some really long days of practice to follow. 


“My expectations are based on what our team looks like, what they’re capable of and whether they’re playing at the level you expect them to,” Donovan said. “I thought there were times [Friday] we had guys not playing up to their standards.”




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