“For us, it was a tale of two halves,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said on his postgame radio show. “In the first half, their pressure on our guards really disrupted us and took us out of the offense. When we threw it inside, we really didn’t make great post moves. We were off balance, bobbling balls and our guards got caught making a bunch of different plays that weren’t there.
“In the second half, we tried to make an effort to go inside. If they’re going to put all that pressure and extend the floor like that, let’s go inside. That’s what we tried to do and got them in foul trouble.”
If it wasn’t post players scoring for the Gators, throwing the ball down low started the offense and opened up the Middle Tennessee State defense on the perimeter. That’s how the Gators were able to get more open looks in the second half.
The Blue Raiders applied heavy pressure in the first half. They used 11 different players in the first half to keep fresh legs on the field and the defensive effort high. It caused the Florida offense to slow down and only score 29 points in the first half.
“Overall, our guys made adjustments,” Donovan said. “It’s a unique style of play to play against them. It’s bumping and grinding. It’s a hard game to officiate because one play looks like a foul but isn’t a foul. It’s hard to get in a flow. I was happy our guys kept their composure, poise and kept battling and playing for 40 minutes.”
After shooting 39.3% in the first half, the Gators shot 58.8% in the second half after getting better looks and being more accustomed to what the Blue Raiders were doing on defense. Donovan pointed out that the only part that struggled was the free throw shooting. The increased focused on the post produced more free throw attempts — 24 compared to five. The Gators only made 14 of those 24 attempts in the second half for a 58.3%.
The Gators got a boost in the return of point guard Scottie Wilbekin. He didn’t retake his starting role on Sunday, but he did play 23 minutes and score eight points. It was a perfect time for Florida to get him back on the floor.
“He came in and did a good job,” Donovan said. “This was a tough, physical game and Scottie Wilbekin is a tough, physical defender. This was a game for him. He provided a lot of that athleticism, quickness and defense we needed to defend.”
Forward Will Yeguete ended the game with 11 points and 13 rebounds to secure the second double-double of his career. Patric Young got two fouls early in the first half and wasn’t on the floor much, so Yeguete filled in and was second on the team with 33 minutes.
Young played 24 minutes, totaling nine points and four rebounds. He still hasn’t hit his stride this season.
“Patric did a really good job,” Donovan said. “His box score isn’t indicative of what he did offensively because he had a difficult time from the free throw line. The biggest thing with Patric is we have to get him chasing the ball a little more on the backboard and grabbing some more rebounds.”
Sunday was a good lesson for the Gators in adjusting. Donovan wanted his team to understand playing different styles based on the opponent, and the Gators were facing opponents in back-to-back games that wanted to do different things.
“A game like this is one you have to play different styles,” Donovan said. “Against Wisconsin, we had to run and get it going chaotic. This is a game where we felt like if we pressed and gave up easy baskets, it wouldn’t be helpful to us. We would be putting them in a situation to take advantage of their strengths. We played a lot of half court defense today.”
The Gators have a quick turnaround as they’ll play host to Savannah State on Tuesday at 7 p.m. They’ll then have two days of practice before hosting UCF on Friday at 4 p.m.
“A lot of games in a short period of time,” Donovan said. “We’ll try to use tomorrow as a day of preparation and get ready to play Savannah State.”