The Florida men’s basketball team improved to 20-2 overall, and 9-0 in the conference after defeating the Missouri Tigers by a final score of 68-58 Tuesday night in Gainesville.
All eyes were on freshman Chris Walker who was set to make his debut, and expectations were high. The freshman forward saw the court for only seven minutes but did make an impact with the little time he played. He electrified the crowd inside the O’Dome with two dunks, two blocks, and two rebounds and Gator coach Billy Donovan talked about his freshman’s mindset after the game.
“I’m happy he walked out of here playing seven minutes and feels good about himself,” Donovan said.
It was also very apparent that his connection with fellow freshman Kasey Hill never lost its spark. The two were teammates on the same AAU team in high school and Donovan used that to their advantage.
The Gators received great guard play on Tuesday night with senior Scottie Wilbekin leading the way with 19 points followed by sophomore Michael Frazier II with 14. However, senior center Patric Young also joined them in double figures with 13 points. With the Tigers (16-6, 4-5) making great emphasis to shut down the guards the Gators boast, Young was left one on one in the paint for most of the night. He finished a respectable 5 of 9 from the field and 3 of 4 from the free throw line.
Overall, the Gators struggled mightily in the first half shooting just 9 of 23 from the field and an abysmal 1 for 11 from beyond the arc. With this sluggish performance, the Gators found themselves trailing at the half for the first time since December 2nd against UConn.
It is close, challenging games that give Donovan a chance to see just how his team will respond, and they came out of the locker room with a completely different mentality. The Gators shot 50 percent from the field in the second half, and hit on 5 of 9 three’s. Frazier benefited the most in the second half hitting all four of his three pointers and giving his team that extra spark it needed. Trailing 48-45, the Gators went on a 16-3 run that gave them their lead for the rest for the rest of the game.
The key stat on the night for the Gators was their work at the free throw line. Despite shooting just 72 percent, the Gators were able to hit 24 free throws and their ability to get to the stripe and put the Tigers in foul trouble was huge. Wilbekin took full advantage of the Tigers foul trouble and got to the stripe a total of 16 times, converting on 13 of those attempts.
The Tigers have been led all season by juniors Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson. Brown finished the night with 15 points, five points off his average, while Clarkson finished with 14, four points under his average on the season. Those were the only players in double digits for the Tigers and this was the fourth straight game the Gators gave up less than 60 points. Donovan spoke after the game on his team’s defense against Missouri’s terrific guards.
“I thought we defended those two guys (Brown and Clarkson) very well and they weren’t able to get their averages so to speak,” he said.
Next up for the Gators will be a home contest against the Crimson Tide of Alabama on Saturday afternoon.
For more of Donovan and the players post-game, click on the links below: