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Thursday November 21, 2013Gators Grind and Eventually Run Away from Middle Tennessee

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The first half played out Thursday night exactly how Florida coach Billy Donovan predicted it would for his players. 

“It was going to be a grind-out game,” sophomore guard Michael Frazier said. “He told us nothing was going to come easy.” 

Including for those who had to watch it. 

“It was painful,” Donovan said of his view from the bench. “Just calling it like it was.” 

There were reasons, of course, most notably the lack of a true point guard in the UF lineup. With Kasey Hill out with an ankle injury and Scottie Wilbekin still suspended for violating team rules, Donovan asked for a group playmaking effort from the 16th-ranked Gators. It took them a while to comply. But a lot of standing around in the first half became a lot of running around in the second and UF raced past Middle Tennessee State for a 79-59 victory in front of 9,020 at the O’Connell Center.

 After a first period shooting 36 percent, five players with two fouls and just an eight-point lead, the Gators (4-1) ripped for 64 percent in the second half and sent six players into double-figure scoring. 

 “Sprained ankles, foul trouble, whatever,” senior center Patric Young said. “Just embrace the struggle and fight.” 

 Young certainly did his part, scoring a game-high 16 points and grabbing six rebounds. Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith was good for 14 points and six rebounds and was one of five Gators to take a turn at the point position. Frazier had 13 points and forward Will Yeguete chipped in 10 points and five boards. 

 Florida, which won its 19th straight at the O’Dome, flailed about through the first half in a very tightly officiated game -- both ways, that is – as the officiating crew certainly did its part instituting the NCAA’s new no-clutch, no-bump rules.

Try 26 fouls and 23 free throws in the first half. 

The first 20 minutes moved at a snail’s pace and the Gators didn’t help matters. 

“We were stagnant,” Finney-Smith said. 

Much of that Donovan attributed to do too much thinking and not enough playing. Minus a point guard, the player charged with initiating offense was analyzing the defense rather than calling a playing just a running it. 

That’s exactly what Donovan explained to his players at halftime, with UF’s lead only 34-26. 

“We were holding the ball too much. And when we did move it some, I think we tried to force too many things,” Yeguete said of his team’s 9-for-25 opening period. “We did a better job of moving and sharing the ball in the second half.” 

Walker started the second with a 3-pointer from the corner. That kicked in a 15-4 run that included back-to-back old-fashion 3-point plays from walk-on Jake Kurtz and Finney-Smith. 

UF was the more energized team. 

“The start of the second half was disappointing. We didn’t really compete and they got all the 50-50 balls,” MTSU coach Kermit Davis said. “I give Billy and Florida a lot of credit. They played like a top-15 team tonight.” 

Casey Prather, limited to just four first-half minutes due to foul trouble, quickly found his way back into the flow. He drove, he finished and got fouled on his way to 11 second-half points and four rebounds. 

Defensively, the Gators were pretty solid for the entire 40 minutes, holding MTSU (4-1) to 42.6 percent for the game, out-rebounding an opponent for the third straight game and forcing 16 turnovers. 

Not to be overlooked, especially with the way the game was called, was UF’s marksmanship at the free-throw line: a season-high 83.3 percent on 30 attempts. 

Overall, it was a good second 20 minutes, given the lack of a point guard. 

“Whenever you get an opportunity to play a game of basketball, there should be a heightened sense of urgency,” Frazier said. “But I would say not having a point guard  raised our sense of aggressiveness. We were like a wounded animal. We had to go in there and fight.” 

The real wounded one, Hill, stayed behind the bench and watched. 

Wilbekin, per team rules, was not in the house. Again. 

When will he be? 

“I’m not going to comment on that stuff here, right now,” said Donovan, who suspended Wilbekin back in June, but has allowed him to practice with the team since Oct. 11. “If he continues to do what he’s been doing, [and he’s] moving in the right direction, and for that I’m proud of him ... but I’m not ready to make any statement that he’s coming back to our team.”

The grinding continues. 



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