The Gator Men's Basketball team opened up conference play Wednesday night with an 83-70 loss to the 15th ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. What started as a very promising first half of play quickly spiraled out of control for the Gators, as they were plagued by turnovers and poor shot selection as well as rebounding in the second half.
Everything got off to a good start for the Gators. In the first half, they showed signs of the team that we saw in the first month of the season. Flying around the floor on the defensive end, trapping off of ball screens up top, rotating effectively and being active. And, it was working, too. The Gators were forcing the Tide to take a lot of tough shots and made them have to work the shot clock all the way down on many possessions. There were a few times that Alabama was bailed out by a cheap Gator foul which led to a bucket or free throws, but nothing major. Offensively, everything was running through Senior center Colin Castleton, who was has been the stalwart on both ends of the floor this year for the Gators. He was effective, too, in drawing doubles and pressure to himself and then finding open guys on the perimeter for three point looks or chances to penetrate towards the rim. He finished the half with a very solid 12 points and 5 rebounds, which included 3 offensive rebounds and looked very confident. Guys like CJ Felder and Jason Jitoboh stepped up off the bench, with Felder having 7 points and 2 rebounds and Jitoboh having 5 points and a rebound, including a big and one finish at the rim. Florida did turn it over eight times in the first half, but it was okay because they were defending well and it was turning into offense on the other end, something that they have made a living off of all season.
At halftime, Coach Napier came out and addressed the Gator Nation for the first time in person, which included a crowd pump up before grabbing the mic, something the fans at Exactech Arena loved to see. He told the Gator Nation, "I want you to know how important it is to me to represent you" and also went onto say "Whether you know it or not, the energy that you had in that first half affected Coach White and his basketball team. We're going to need that same energy in the 2nd half and we're going to need that same energy next fall in The Swamp." That got the crowd even more fired up heading into half number two. Everything seemed to be looking good for the Gators and you had the feeling that this team was finding their groove again.
But boy was I wrong. As Florida has so many times in the Mike White era, they came out looking about as flat as you can in the second half. Alabama started the final period on a 22-4 run, and nothing was going right offensively or defensively for us. The Tide and their skilled trio of guards Jahvon Quinerly, Keon Ellis and Jaden Shackelford began exposing Florida's high trapping off of ball screens and switches. Guys were finding themselves wide open under the rim or on the perimeter for the Tide and were knocking down shots left and right. Florida's fatigue caused by only playing twice in 19 days and having many off-court Covid issues also played a factor and led to a lot of those easy baskets and cheap fouls. And there were a lot of cheap fouls given up by the Gators. One that stood out occurred late in the first half with 4:32 left, where Alabama's Juwan Gary hit a big 3 point jumper to cut the Gators' lead to four while simultaneously center Charles Bediako got fouled under the rim by Florida's Jason Jitoboh. Bediako hit both free throws, cut the Gators' lead to two and it ended up being a five point possession for the Tide. These are just things that you cannot have if you're the Gators, especially in conference play. To add salt to the wound, the Gators turned the ball over 12 times in the 2nd half and finished the game with a team total of 20. On top of that, they shot very poorly from the line finishing the game 18-28, which is a team percentage of 64.3% for the game. Between the high rate of turnovers, poor free throw shooting, lax defensive play in the second half and just overall sloppiness down the stretch, the Gators gave themselves virtually no chance to win that game.
If they continue to play this way, they're going to find themselves in serious trouble very quickly. With how deep the conference is this year and how tough the Gators upcoming stretch of games is they could very well see their figurative ship of a season sinking come January's end. And if that's the case, then the captain of the ship, coach Mike White, has to be held responsible. This team is too talented and too experienced to be making these kinds of mistakes in games like this and, unfortunately, that's something that Gator fans have become accustomed to under White. Florida has a chance to bounce back and try to get this thing headed in the right direction Saturday night when they head to Auburn to take on the uber talented 9th ranked Tigers. You can find the time and TV information for that game below.
Time: 8:00 EST
TV: ESPN 2