The Florida Gators men’s basketball team (4-2) fell to the Baylor Bears (6-0) 95-91 Friday in the championship of the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Gators worked to keep the margin a three-to-seven point game, but with each stop the Bears responded with a bucket.
Head coach Todd Golden discussed the team’s performance this season and pulled positive feedback from the Baylor game in today’s press conference.
The Gators played without starting center Micah Handlogten, who suffered an ankle injury during the first minute of their opening round game against Pittsburgh Wednesday. Golden stated not having Handlogten affects the defense the most.
Handlogten gave it a go in practice Monday. Moreover, Golden said he will make the game-time decision whether to bring him back for Wednesday’s game against Wake Forest. He said if he can’t, the young players will have to step up and continue delivering for the team.
The second-year head coach said one player who has stepped up is forward graduate student Tyrese Samuel. Samuel recorded 17 points, two steals and six rebounds in Friday’s game. He was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week Monday.
Gators sophomore guard Riley Kugel’s had a career high of 25 points and nine rebounds against Baylor. Defensively, Kugel held Baylor’s leading scorer Ja’Kobe Walker to a season-low 11 points.
Golden said Kugel’s greatest growth defensively is being consistent with every possession and preventing his opponent from scoring.
Last season, Kugel dominated offensively and became the Gators most reliable scorer at the end of the season. This season, Golden is asking less in terms of needing to score, but more is required everywhere else on the court.
Despite a rough start, Florida dominated in the second half against Pittsburgh. The team recorded 24 assists and held the score gap to no less than 10 points.
Golden said Florida played a different style coming into the Baylor game with not as strong of a defense. He said it was a balance of Florida’s breakdowns and Baylor stepping up to make big shots.
He said the team has the personnel to make things happen and are far more prepared going into their matchup with Wake Forest.
Golden said it will be a chess match trying to adjust to when they can go small and when they shouldn’t. Seeing which players will be more effective in doing so is a challenge as every player deserves game minutes and is good enough to play, he said.
The Gators will travel to face the Demon Deacons in the SEC/ACC challenge Wednesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.