GAINESVILLE, FL (Take 2 Sports) - In an early season battle between #4 Ohio State and #9 Florida, the Buckeyes showed not just the Gators, but the entire country, there's a much bigger difference between the 5 AP Poll spots separating the two.
Trailing by 3 at halftime, Ohio State made 24 of 34 field goals in the final 20 minutes, including 5 straight 3's in one stretch, en route to an early decision blowout at the O'Connell Center.
In just his second collegiate game, highly touted freshman Jared Sullinger lived up to his billing, and then some. The 6'9" big man was dominant down low, scoring 26 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Last year Ohio State All-American Evan Turner said Sullinger might not just be this year's Big 10 Freshman of the Year, he could be the conference Player of the Year. Turner could be right.
The Gators tried nearly everyone, but a combination of Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin, Patric Young, and Erik Murphy did little to combat Sullinger's sheer size and strength. Sullinger shot 13-17 from the floor, with many of those buckets coming on easy 2nd half dunks and layups after the Buckeyes continuously shredded the Florida press.
After ending up on the wrong end of a 21-point swing in the game's final 20 minutes, Florida coach Billy Donovan had no shortage of praise for his opponents.
"Ohio State has a better chance of being a better team this year than they did a year ago," Donovan said. "Evan Turner's a great player, the player of the year in the country and they won 29 games and did a great job." "But when you have that kind of player, you really kind of become a little more one-dimensional. They are a complete team that probably has a chance to do a little more this season because there's going to be a lot more balance to their team."
Redshirt senior David Lighty was equal the assassin as Sullinger, repeatedly beating the smaller Gator guards off the dribble to finish near the rim. Lighty went 9-11 from the field (6-7 from the free throw line) to also add 26 points.
After a red-hot 1st half, Florida fell flat in the 2nd, with only sophomore guard Kenny Boynton providing substantial offense. Boynton went 5-8 from beyond the arc to finish with a team-high 21 points.
Florida (1-1) will re-coup before facing North Carolina A&T on Thursday night. Ohio State (2-0) moves on to next play UNC-Wilmington Saturday back in Columbus.
Scott's Thoughts: (A mixed bag of thoughts, comments, observations, etc.)
* First and foremost, Sullinger answered all questions about whether or not the freshman is "The Real Deal". He is. If he so chooses, Sullinger will easily be a 1st round NBA Draft pick next June, if not a lottery selection.
* The biggest difference in the game, at least to these trained eyes, was the complete failure of the full court press in the 2nd half. Donovan, perhaps against his own good sense, insisted on applying pressure from the inbound, while the Buckeyes had little, to no trouble at all breaking it, then whipping the ball around until they found the wide open man for an easy jumper, layup, or dunk. Because of the relative ease with which they broke the press, Florida was always 1 man out of place defending its own hoop, and left, more often than not, with its collective head spinning, followed by a "swish".
* While the Gators may be improved in size this year, they still lack a "true" big man, ala Sullinger. Vernon Macklin, in particular, displayed an improved presence around the hoop, but even as Florida's starting center, he's not enough to bang with a dominant big. Same goes for Tyus, Murphy, and Young.
* Speaking of Young, the McDonald's All-American from Jacksonville is an impressive specimen at first sight. For those who can recall, he reminds a lot of Donnell Harvey, when Harvey arrived on campus in 1999-2000. Incredible physical tools, but very, very raw offensively. At this exact point however, Harvey had a greater impact on each game than Young is.
* You might call it nit-picking, but there was an evident lack of passion down the stretch from Florida. Sounds like a small thing, but trust me, to a coaching staff it can be instances such as these (not fighting through screens and surrendering easy baskets, pulling up while chasing down a fast-breaking opponent instead of contesting a shot or committing a hard foul) that can be most disconcerting.
* While you will never hear me question the heart of point guard Erving Walker, the brain is a different matter. Walker can be electric offensively, particularly from distance (5-7 fgs, 15 pts), but he often plays as though he's too stubborn to accept he's only 5'8". His 7 turnovers is a perfect example of instances in which he ought to play it smart and safe, but instead drives the lane where he has a tendency to get stuck below the timber, sometimes leaving his feet even to pass with no sure outlet.
* It's pretty amazing to realize freshman point guard Scottie Wilbekin is only 17 and should be a high school senior this year. He's definitely serviceable and will get quality minutes backing up Walker and Boynton, but much like Young, he's still very much a work in progress.
* Just my opinion, but you can't tell me the Buckeyes' David Lighty wasn't playing with a little more spite and passion than any other night. The lone player left on either roster from the 2007 national championship game between the 2 schools, Lighty clapped and gestured emphatically down the stretch when the Rowdy Reptiles directed some less than flattering chanting at him. Considering how poorly he played in the Georgia Dome against UF as a freshman, torching the Gators for 26, and pretty much scoring at will had to be pretty gratifying.
* Before the season began I privately predicted a minimum Sweet 16 finish for Florida this year, with a Final 4 ceiling. There's a lot of basketball to be played, but right now I'm awfully tempted to lower that ceiling to Sweet 16.
Reminder: You can follow Scott on twitter all season long (www.twitter.com/SLAPEER) for all things Gators hoops including live, in-game updates.