Chandler Parsons with an instant Gator classic!
With a name like "Farnold", you ought to know by an early age not to invoke easy ridicule and humiliation.
Oh, but Farnold Degand had to learn the hard way, thanks in part to a heavenly heave from Florida junior Chandler Parsons.
I was watching some film on Parsons, the Houston Rockets 2nd round choice, earlier today (because I'm a sports nerd and these are the kinds of things I enjoy), when I remembered perhaps his most famous play as a college star at Florida. I dug up the video on YouTube and -- wow! -- it never fails to surprise. Parsons buries the most astonishing buzzer-beater in the history of University of Florida basketball, and really, one of the 2 or 3 best shots to win a game I've ever seen.
This, was a ripple in time we can now easily label a "teachable moment". Let's rewind...
It's January 3, 2010 and the Gators are playing North Carolina State on the road in Raleigh, NC. Already in overtime, the Wolfpack have a 1-point lead and the unfortunately named senior Farnold Degand (no, I honestly didn't make that name up) is at the free throw line with 2 shots. A career 61% ft shooter, Degand, true to form, makes the first and misses the second. Now down 61-59, the ball clangs straight off the front of the rim and lands in Parsons' raised, right hand. With a mere 2.6 seconds to play, Parsons, in a moment that clearly shows an acute understanding of the game, wastes no movements. The 6'9" Gator secures the ball with both hands while turning his body. He dribbles once, out of the paint, his long stride to his obvious benefit. As he rounds a slight corner, Parsons' second dribble is straight forward, instantly squaring up his shooting frame with the basket. It's also interesting to note somewhere in the course of this second, and final, bounce, Parsons' eyes find the clock above the basket and his brain processes his already-occurring mechanics with how much actual time he now recognizes remains. Without a single flinch, he takes advantage of 1 more giant stride and -- in text book form -- lets go a heave from roughly 70 feet away... and I can't tell if it even grazed the rim. Amazing.
The Gators go wild. The RBC Center crowd, suddenly punch drunk and stunned, can't stammer to the exits fast enough. Parsons gets mobbed. NC State coach, Sidney Lowe, at least for a couple seconds, looks like he's considering bolting for his tunnel rather than shaking hands. Even Billy Donovan, if you watch it close enough, has an immediate reaction (arms raised to the sky, a hop-step up the sideline) that is very un-Donovan-like. It's one of those "we've really never prepared for THIS moment" moments. It's awesome.
But going back to good old Farnold-- HIS final 2.6 seconds invite the wrath of any detailed eye.
First, either someone on Florida, or 1 of his teammates, says something to him between his 1st and 2nd free throws. This much we know because Degand arrogantly declares, "I got it", just before releasing his second shot. Rule no. 1 about free throw shooting: NEVER DO THIS. Unless you are a Ray Allen, machine-like 90+% marksman, never do anything to take you out of your precious, natural rhythm. Don't smile at an opponent. Don't wink at a fan. Don't even disrupt your motion to wipe sweat off the tip of your nose if you can help it. Just dribble, bend, release, and follow through as you have so many thousands of times before. Degand responds, and ultimately, it costs his team the game.
Second, and this is a little bit of a continuation off the first point, it's no surprise the senior guard's 2nd free throw comes up short. Degand is leaning back -- perhaps subconsciously alluding to an "it's already over" mentality -- upon his release. You lean back, you take some momentum off the ball and, thus, it hits squarely on the front of the rim and caroms directly downward to Parsons. If you think about it, there really couldn't have been ANY other kind of rebound more convenient to Parsons' cause. Miss it long and he has to jump for it. To the side and perhaps Parsons doesn't even get the ball. The momentary. over-assuredness of poor Farnold results in the exact rebound that can be gathered, and in one motion, pushed out in front of the player for immediate advancement.
Thirdly, Degand suffers a most embarrassing case of in-your-eye, humble pie. Realizing Parsons was going to, at the very least, have an honest hurl before the buzzer, Farnold steps forward and, smartly, just as you're coached to do, attempts to alter the shot without fouling. As Parsons is bringing his right hand back to the ball to prepare for a from-the-chest heave, Farnold extends 1 arm and flares it over Parsons head to distract the shooter. Too late. Parsons, eyes already locked on the bucket, steps in and lets it go... and somehow the Florida swingman simultaneously makes the final 2.6 seconds of this particular game perhaps his most memorable, and Degand's most regrettable. I can watch this clip 100 times and it doesn't get old.
Just to tie a bow on things, a moment this incredible is not without its resonance. For one, it's not hard to argue without winning this game, Florida very likely doesn't make the NCAA Tournament in 2010. At the end of the regular season, this was a substantial "out-of-conference" win on its resume. Additionally, for Parsons, it may have been an enormous confidence booster. 20 days later, Chandler repeated his heroics, only this time from the more traditional distance of 21-feet. A catch-and-shoot 3-pointer at the buzzer beat South Carolina at home, 58-56. Without Parsons' "Miracle in Raleigh", the argument can be made he doesn't shoot the ball the 2nd time with such confidence. Who really knows for sure, but it's not a major stretch to assume seeing the ball go down not 3 weeks earlier the way it did boosts one's sense of "give me the ball and get out of the way".
Because of these 2 last-second wins, the Gators finish the regular season a tepidly impressive 21-12, very much on the proverbial post season bubble. Take away the NC State shot, which pre-empts the 2nd CP game winner, and you're looking at 19-14 and an undoubted third straight trip to the NIT. Make that third trip to the NIT, and maybe a McDonald's All-American like 6'9" Patric Young decides Florida's glory days are over and commits somewhere else. It's a chain of speculation, yes, but a chain of possibilities all hinging on the picturesque arc of Parson's 70-foot shot.
Also of note, don't think for a second this moment couldn't impact his draft status a year and a half later. Coaches, GM's, and scouts scour for info on their prospects, and having a pair of ice cold coffin nailers on his resume reel like Parsons has, is only an advantage. A GM thinks, "It doesn't hurt I'm getting a guy who's shown he can execute in the clutch," and maybe takes that prospect over another of very similar talent.
Finally, I just love how former Gator Dan Werner is the first to believe the improbable lob is going in. The guy who never had the guts or gumption to take a good shot in the clutch is the first to raise his arms. The impromptu mob is always terrific to watch. Also, you can see 5'6" Erving Walker on the outlet calling for the ball from Parsons, probably only hoping if he did get the ball, there would actually be enough time for him to catch and shoot it. Even the Florida fans appear unsure of what just happened and hesitant to commence celebration mode.
And of all things, you know what makes it even that much more spectacular a shot? The fact that, as soon as the ball swished through, not a single person in that stadium questioned whether or not it counted. CP's deep 3. An all-time Gator classic.
Pair of Gators taken in 2011 NBA Draft
Thursday night was an especially memorable one for Florida seniors Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin. With the 2011 NBA Draft in prime time, Parsons and Macklin became just the 4th set of Gator teammates to be selected by an NBA team in the same draft class.
The 2010-2011 SEC Player of the Year, Parsons became a Houston Rocket with the 38th overall pick. Considered no higher than late first round, the 38th spot was pretty close to most analysts' expectations for the nearly 6'10" guard/forward. Regarding Macklin, the 52nd overall selection by the Detroit Pistons was a much bigger surprise. While a slim few pegged the senior big man a very late option, most had conceded free-agent try-outs for both Macklin and, a 3rd Florida senior, Alex Tyus. As it turned out, two-thirds of a senior cast that led the Gators back to NCAA Tournament prominence lived out lifelong dreams in Newark.
Parsons (11.3 pts, 7.8 rebs, 3.8 asst), whose 859 career rebounds ranks 9th all-time in school history, should have a very good opportunity to crack the Houston roster, benefiting from 1 of the more well-rounded games in this year's relatively marginal draft. At the same time, the Rockets had 3 picks and used all of them on forwards (Markieff Morris, Nikola Mirotic), and already have a list of big men, but Parsons' versatility is a definite asset in his bid for a rookie job. The majority of scout's criticism centered around inconsistent play and a lack of speed, but an ability to impact the game in a different way on any given night will likely earn Parsons a contract.
Macklin's hopes may be a bit more distant. A year or 2 in and out of the NBDL may be Big Mack's road to a consistent future with the Pistons. Despite good height and length, Macklin has always been considered quite limited offensively and, in truth, pleasantly surprised most Florida fans with a drastically refined ability to score with his back to the basket. The Pistons love his size (as described by SB Nation's Pistons blog Detroit Bad Boys ), maturity (he'll be 25 by the start of next season), and surprising agility. His 11.1 points per game and 5.5 rebounds his senior year don't blow anyone away, but his hard work in his 3 years in Gainesville post-Georgetown served him well enough to have heard his name called on draft night.
As for Tyus, in all the time leading up to the draft, as far back as nearly a year ago, I only came across 1 mock draft to ever list him among the top 60 picks, and that was one particular site for which he agreed to submit a 6-volume "draft diary". At a wiry 6''8" with a game more suited for a true big man, Tyus is undersized and thus, undervalued. He plays with a great motor and inspiring hustle, but his path will likely involve foreign hoops for the foreseeable future.
With their dual selections, Parsons and Macklin join former Gators Ronnie Williams & Vernon Delancy (1984), Mike Miller & Donnell Harvey (2000), and Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, Chris Richard, & Taurean Green (2007) as teammates to be drafted on the same night. They also become the 32nd and 33rd players chosen in Florida basketball history, and the 14th and 15th under Billy Donovan. For those counting, that's now 15 players in 15 seasons for Florida's future Hall of Fame head coach.
More than colleague, Donovan calls Meyer "friend"
Together, Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer became one of the most successful college coaching duos in NCAA history. In just 6 short years -- the span of Meyer's helm at Florida -- the two combined to win 4 national titles, 6 SEC championships, and became the first tandem in history to win national championships in their respective sports in the same year. They are of similar age and athletic background, and each's similarities extend beyond their respective playing surface.
In the time since Meyer came to Gainesville from Utah, he and Donovan have seen a coaching kinship develop into a friendship. Their families live in the same neighborhood. They go to the same church. So when Donovan learned of Meyer's decision to finally step away from his football post, he had this reaction:
"Urban is a close friend of mine, and coaching aside, I care more about Urban Meyer the person. My main concern is for he and his family and their peace. As long as he is at peace with his decision I'm happy for he and his family."
Now in his 15th season at Florida, Donovan will soon see a 4th different head football coach enter under his tenure. Donovan's Gators are 6-2, and face Kent State tonight at 7 p.m. at the O'Connell Center.
Marcus Jordan shows Florida a shade of his father
Thursday, December 2nd
In Wednesday night's 57-54 upset win over #18 Florida, UCF guard Marcus Jordan broke down the Gator defense in the 2nd half, showing shades of a former professional basketball star by the same initials. In the 2nd half of the contest - the 1st collegiate game played at the Orlando Magic's new Amway Center - Jordan used a high screen to split the Florida defense, knife straight down the lane, and switch from right hand to left after Gator big man Vernon Macklin pressured the shot from behind.
It was, by far, the game's most exciting play, and may have opened a few more eyes to a budding talent on the rise. Jordan, just a sophomore, came into the Knight's 6th game of the year averaging a team-high 16.8 points. He finished Wednesday night with a team-high 18.
Check out the video and see if those moves aren't eerily familiar to you...
ORLANDO, FL (Take 2 Sports) -
#18 Florida takes on UCF in Orlando
Wednesday, Dec. 1st
Guided by a brand new coach in a brand new gym, The University of Central Florida will take the court Saturday night at Amway Center in Orlando in search of a signature program win over 18th-ranked Florida.
New to the Knights, but not Florida basketball, is head coach Donnie Jones. For the first time Wednesday night, Jones will stand on the opposite sideline of his long-time colleague and mentor, Billy Donovan. For 13 years, from Marshall University to Florida, Jones served alongside Donovan, resurrecting 2 basketball programs and helping the Gators to as many national championships.
However, come tip-off at 7 p.m., UCF (5-0) will fight to remain perfect in the early season, while Florida (5-1) will try to take yet another step toward the high expectations it entered the season with. While Donovan and Marshall strive to meet each's own team agenda, both coaches acknowledge the mixed emotions of trying to one-up the other.
"You never want to play somebody like Florida because of Billy and our relationship. You hate playing against guys you coached with," Jones admitted to the Florida Times-Union on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Donovan's comments reflect a similar sentiment.
"I've always said it's hard to go against a guy who has worked with you and done such a great job for us here at Florida," Donovan said. "It's not like he and I are at halfcourt in a fist-fight beating each other up. Our teams are competing against each other. You hear about sibling rivalries growing up or brothers or sisters being competitive. I think it's healthy. Sometimes it's not a bad thing. You just hate when you walk off the court somebody's got to lose because you know what kind of guy he is and how hard he works."
The Gators and Golden Knights tip-off the Florida Citrus Sports Shootout at 7 p.m. in downtown Orlando. The game can be viewed on Florida Sun Sports (FSN) or heard on the Gator Radio Network. It's the 10th all-time meeting between the schools, but the first ever in UCF's home city.
More News & Notes:
- In those previous 9 meetings, Florida is a perfect 9-0. The Gators last beat the Knights 89-61 December 20th, 2008 in Jacksonville.
- Florida center Vernon Macklin is slated to start again, but limited playing time is likely. The senior, who has missed extended practice time in the past weeks, is battling tendinitis and bone spurs in his left knee. Sophomore Erik Murphy and freshmen Patric Young and Will Yeguete will see more time in the front court as a result.
- Jones is the first of 3 former assistants Donovan will face this season. Once SEC play begins, games hosting Arkansas and Alabama will bring John Pelphrey and Anthony Grant back to the O'Connell Center.
- Fun facts:
- For 18 years running, UCF has not had a head coach without prior Florida coaching experience. Before this season, Kirk Speraw, former assistant to Gator coach Lon Kruger, oversaw the Knights post for 17 seasons
- There will be a bench full of familiar faces to Gator Radio color commentator Craig Brown Wednesday night. Brown, a former Gator hoops star, was a long-time assistant under Speraw at UCF, undoubtedly recruiting most of the Knights current roster.
- Could there be a basketball icon in the house? You never know where Michael Jordan could pop up in Florida these days... Both Jordan's sons, Jeffrey and Marcus, play for UCF. Sophomore Marcus, a 6'3" SG, is starting this year, averaging 16.8 ppg.
- Florida also played in the first ever game in the old Amway Arena in Orlando in February of 1989 against Stanford.
Gators Fall in Poll; Macklin to the Bench?
Monday, November 22
After dropping last Tuesday's home game by 18 points to Ohio State, the Florida basketball team has dropped in this week's latest AP Poll. The Gators fell 7 spots to #16 nationally.
At 3-1, Florida received 589 votes, the exact same amount as 5-0 Georgetown to tie for the 16th spot. Following its 93-75 loss to the Buckeyes, Florida rebounded with a pair of wins over North Carolina A&T and Morehead State.
Duke, Michigan State, Ohio State, Kansas State, and Pitt are numbers 1-5. For the entire Top 25, click here.
The Gators play a pair of games Thanksgiving week, starting with Tuesday night's home match up against Florida Atlantic. On Sunday, they'll travel to Tallahassee to face Florida State. The Seminoles received 31 votes in this week's rankings.
Still slated to start Tuesday night is senior center Vernon Macklin, but there's a chance it could be his last bit of action for a while. Macklin has been battling a sore right knee for several weeks now, which has finally been diagnosed as tendinitis with bone spurs. For the past couple weeks, the 6'10" Macklin has been held out of practice, getting his only real considerable run in games.
The major concern is losing Florida's tallest post player for an extended amount of time -- possibly as long as a month -- to allow him the sufficient rest to be ready for the conference schedule. Coach Billy Donovan said he'll consult with team trainers to arrive at the best solution.
"He's dealing with pretty significant pain and probably doesn't have the explosion he normally would have and I think probably a decision will have to made or decide what do we do with him going forward because I think it's an issue where it's hard to get a guy better or improve when he's not in practice and he limited,'' Donovan said to Florida Today on Monday. "And then you expect a guy to go out and perform in a game but he's not getting reps in practice like he probably needs to. But it's just something he's going to be dealing with. The pain he's going to have he's probably going to have to deal with I would say for at least another month before he's maybe even feeling any better.''
Should Macklin be temporarily shelved, either sophomore Erik Murphy or freshman Patric Young would start in his place. Donovan also said that would likely slide freshman Will Yeguete into the 4th post position in his rotation. The Florida staff still plans to red-shirt freshman big man Cody Larson of South Dakota.
Donovan said it was clear Macklin was hampered by the knee after watching game film this past week.
"In talking to the trainer, when you start talking about surgery the biggest thing with surgery is do you get a drastic return when you perform surgery that he's that much better and I think with what his issues are there is no guarantee if he did have surgery that there would be a whole lot of improvement there,'' Donovan said. "Because of the tendinitis and the bone spur the best thing probably for him would be rest. He doesn't need surgery. Now whether or not he gets that done at the end of the year and gets it cleaned out, but if he does do that there no guarantee he's going to have drastic improvement.''
#9 Florida moves past Morehead State
Gators win 61-55, avoid early-season upset
GAINESVILLE, FL (TAKE 2 SPORTS) - After a first half that appeared nearly worthy of its top 10 ranking, #9 Florida did just enough in the second to fend off a feisty Morehead State team, avoiding a disappointing mid-major letdown.
The Gators took a 17-point lead into half time, where after the break, senior Vernon Macklin's opening dunk pushed it to 19. Though, just when it looked like the visiting Eagles were being blown out of the O-Dome, senior Kenneth Faried rolled up his sleeves and went to work, leading Morehead back into the game with an effort worthy of the Ohio Valley Conference pre season Player of the Year honor given to him.
The boundlessly energetic Eagles big man dominated around the rim, even against the likes of Florida's taller post players, racking up 20 points and 18 rebounds, while also blocking 2 shots. Florida coach Billy Donovan knew all about Faried, calling him a "1st round NBA Draft pick" earlier in the week, yet the Gators could do nothing to contain his efforts.
"He just totally destroyed our frontcourt," Donovan said to the Orlando Sentinel. "He's not talented at all, and it's a great lesson for our guys. He's not a talented player. He has absolutely no offensive skill. He's not a great post player. He's not a great scorer. He is a relentless, and I use that with all capitals, a relentless-effort guy in terms of going after every single rebound."
Morehead reserve Lamont Austin's only points of the game, a 3-pointer with 10:50 remaining, cut Florida's lead to just 6, 45-39. Minutes later, Gator sophomore Kenny Boynton picked the right time to break out of an 0-8 shooting funk, scoring on a lay-up, and two straight 3-pointers to build the lead back to 11.
"When you're up on a team by 17 points, it's almost like you know the other team is going to come out and they're going to battle and fight," Donovan said. "And if you give them a glimmer of hope that they can get back into the game in the first four or five minutes of the half, you're going to create a level of energy for that team that you're going to have to deal with for the rest of the half."
Junior guard Erving Walker finished with 16 points, while Chandler Parsons had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Boynton added 10 points.
Florida (3-1) is off until returning to the home court Tuesday night to host Florida Atlantic.
Donovan Talks Morehead State
Saturday, November 20
Preparing for Sunday afternoon's opponent, Billy Donovan can't over-state the respect he has for Morehead State.
"When I watched the film on (them), I was SO impressed," Donovan said. "This is a team that returns a lot of players who won 26 games last year, so yeah, I'm concerned."
Of all the Eagles returning players, none concerns Donovan more than senior big man Kenneth Faried. Averaging a double-double at 17.3 ppg and 11 rpg, Faried was named the Ohio Valley Conference pre-season Player of the Year. At a very active 6'8", with long wing-span, Faried is almost certainly an NBA Draft selection next June.
"We're facing a very active guy who can dominate a game in stretches," Donovan told Mick Hubert of the Gators Radio Network. "This is a first round draft pick coming here Sunday that we're going to have to be ready to defend."
After Faried, however, the Eagles line up shrinks considerably. 4 guards start alongside their big man, none bigger than 6'4". While this could pose a problem should Florida try to press as they did against a quicker Ohio State team on Tuesday, the Gators should have great size advantage inside, with 6'9" Chandler Parsons, 6'8" Alex Tyus, and 6'10" Vernon Macklin all expected to start. Erik Murphy and freshman Patric Young, both 6'9", will be the first few Gators off the bench.
Last season, Morehead State went 24-11, falling just short of the NCAA Tournament after losing to Murray State in the OVC Championship. What shouldn't be overlooked is the strength of Murray State, who knocked off Vanderbilt in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament, then fell 2 points short to eventual national runner-up Butler in Round 2.
Further emphasizing the visiting Eagles' potential, Donovan recalled a couple of games last season his Gators lost to smaller conference opponents. He likened the ability of Morehead State to both Richmond (56-53 L) and South Alabama (77-76 L), both of whom Florida lost to in succesive games last year.
A final note of interest: Through just 3 games, the Gators and Eagles already share 2 exact opponents, UNC-Wilmington and North Carolina A&T. Florida handled both, with respective 77-60 and 105-55 wins. Morehead split the 2, also dominating A&T, 84-61 while falling by 2 to Wilmington, 60-58.
Tip-off is set for 3:30.
Gators Rebound Big for 50 point Win
GAINESVILLE, FL (TAKE 2 SPORTS) - With only a single day spacing an 18-point drubbing at the hands of Ohio State and its next home game, Florida put to rest, early, any concern of a hangover effect. The Gators outscored North Carolina A&T 2-to-1 in the game's first 10 minutes, opening up a 26-13 lead that would only increase to an eventual 105-55 win.
With senior Alex Tyus out due to a mild concussion, sophomore forward Erik Murphy got his first career start. Proving worthy of the extra minutes, Murphy went 4-6 from the floor, and perfect from the free throw line to finish with 11 points, 4 rebounds, and a pair of blocks. The double digit scoring total was just a part of one of the most prolific scoring night's of the Billy Donovan era.
Eight Gators finished in double figures. Sophomore Kenny Boynton and senior Chandler Parsons led the way with 16 apiece. The 8 players registering double figure scoring was the most since Florida did it on December 10, 2000 against Florida A&M. Beside Parsons, freshman Casey Prather (12 points) and junior Erving Walker (11 points) each shot 2-4 from three-point range, while freshmen Scottie WIlbekin and Patric Young also had 11, and senior Vernon Macklin added 10 points and 6 rebounds in just 16 minutes.
Aside from the offensive out pour, Florida gave the visiting Aggies fits on defense, causing panic and confusion in transition, and effectively cutting off passing lanes all night. North Carolina A&T turned the ball over 23 times (14 at the half), and shot just 20-58 for 34.5%. Conversely, the orange-and-blue was 57.5% from the field, 40% from three, while spreading the fun around to the tune of 26 total assists.
“It was just important for us to bounce back after the loss we suffered to Ohio State,’’ Parsons said. “It was a good opportunity for us to come and play a team like them, really disruptive, pressing us, flying everywhere."
“Our discipline was a lot better. Our defense was more solid. On the other end, we had a lot less turnovers.’’
While the prolific scoring night grabs the headline, the sidebar from the win would definitely be the official debut of the freshman class. With such a comfortable lead in the 2nd half, Billy Donovan allowed his core of freshmen -- WIlbekin, Young, Prather, and Will Yeguete -- to play a majority of the final 20 minutes, getting plenty of reps running the offense together.
Young, the McDonald's All-American from Jacksonville and most highly touted of the newbies, made his presence felt on the defensive end, using his great size and length to block 2 shots and come away with 4 steals.
But it's Wilbekin, the 17-year old Gainesville native who graduated high school early to begin college this year, who looks to have the most trust from Donovan early on. The 6'2" guard logged more minutes than any Gator Thursday night with 31, and is already essentially the back-up point guard and first or second player off the bench. He also dished out 6 assists and grabbed 3 rebounds.
Meanwhile, and maybe even more important to Florida's success this year, was the arrival of Prather and Yeguete. You could literally see the 2 get more comfortable, and thus better, with each trip down the court. Prather scored 12 points in the game's final half, displaying a nice catch-and-shoot ability, plus the skill to move in transition and convert on the run. What Yeguete did was maybe most impressive. At 6'8", Yeguete flashed a knack for the loose ball, and a penchant for doing the dirty work. He finished the game with 7 points and 15 rebounds (most rebounds in a game from a UF freshman since Al Horford's 18 vs. Alabama in 2005), with 9 of those boards coming on the offensive end.
An easy bounce back win certainly helps Florida's psyche, however, the extended time and experience for the 4 freshmen is invaluable if the Gators hope to have the kind of depth late in the season needed to make various title runs.
Florida (2-1) next hosts Morehead State on Sunday at 3:30 pm in the O'Connell Center.
For all Florida basketball updates and info, follow Scott at www.twitter.com/SLAPEER
Buckeyes Buck Up in Gainesville, Trounce Gators
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 everyone, there's a much bigger difference between the 5 spots in the AP Poll that separated 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 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.
Florida, Ohio State Usher in Another Big Season
As if hoops heads needed an excuse to officially signal the start of the college basketball season, Tuesday night's match up of #4 Ohio State vs. #9 Florida will do just that. Barely a week into the new season, the Buckeyes visit to Gainesville is the first game of the year featuring two top-10 teams against each other.
Ohio State vs. Florida... Sound familiar?
A quick history lesson tells us theirs is by no means a storied rivalry, but of late the 2 major-conference powers have squared off on more than a fair share of nationally spotlighted platforms. That history, no matter how brief, is one that can only fire up an already talented team of Bucks.
December 23, 2006. Gainesville, Florida.
Again, in one of the 2006-2007 season's premier early games, the 3rd-ranked Buckeyes traveled to a raucous O-Dome in Gainesville to play #4 Florida. On the heels of its first national basketball championship, a veteran Gator squad thoroughly dismantled Ohio State and freshman beast Greg Oden for a 26-point, 86-60 win.
January 8, 2007. BCS National Championship. Glendale, Arizona.
This time on the gridiron, in a showdown for college football's national title, an underdog Florida squad surrendered an opening kickoff return touchdown to the nation's #1 team, then proceeded to run roughshod over an outmatched Ohio State bunch, seizing the national crown in an emphatic 41-14 beatdown.
A marquee rematch roughly 3 months later, Florida and Ohio State met on the hardwood again, this time for college basketball's national crown. Different date, same result. The Gators became the first team in college hoops history to win back-to-back titles with the same starting 5, celebrating their 2nd straight "one shining moment" with a 74-65 win.
December 22, 2007. Columbus, Ohio.
The return of the home-and-home saw Florida travel to Columbus for the programs' 3rd match up in 1 calendar year. Again, the home team celebrated the "W". A fresh-faced Florida bunch struggled to keep pace with Ohio State and the Buckeyes cruised, winning 62-49.
Now 3 years later and all grown up, Florida will look to atone for the lone blemish in its recent run against the Buckeyes. Yet even with all 5 starters back, and an apparent return to the depth that has trademarked the stellar squads of the Billy Donovan era, a win at home Tuesday night won't come easy. The Buckeyes bring a lot of size and experience to the O'Connell Center, 2 traits that should test Florida's ability to out-think and out-muscle one of the nation's biggest line ups.
"They are a team that probably a year ago wasn't quite as good of a rebounding team and I think now they have the potential to be one of the best rebounding teams in the country with (Jared) Sullinger and (Dallas) Lauderdale and (Deshaun) Thomas," Florida coach Billy Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. "Those guys have a lot of length and size, and they can rebound too." "They're sending four guys and there's no question we'll have to do a good job rebounding the ball ."
In Sullinger, Ohio State boasts one of America's top freshmen. The 6'9" power forward is big and long, and talented enough to score in a wide variety of ways.In its season opening win last week, Sullinger scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, claiming the Big 10's first freshman of the week honors. Expect plenty more to come.
And that was just the front-court Donovan was concerned with.
The Bucks' back-court goes 6'5", 6'5", and 6'6" featuring 2 seniors and a junior. Redshirt-senior David Lighty, the lone player on either team remaining from that 2007 national championship game, is a smooth operator on both ends, and senior Jon Diebler has accuracy from beyond 3 like few others in the country.
Lighty has played once in front of the Rowdy Reptiles, and while he can't say he recalls it fondly, he does remember it well.
"I really didn't know what to expect going down there my first time," said Lighty. "We knew they were good, but when you get down there, it's kind of unreal, the support they have from all their fans."
Obviously, that memory has been relayed to his partner on the perimeter.
"You can't prepare for the crowd being loud and everyone against you," Diebler said. "Just the mindset of going on the road has to be different. You really have to come focused."
Florida will need to come focused, as well. After bowing out in the NCAA's first-round last year, the Gators received plenty of pre-season hype. Whether or not it's justified has, of course, yet to be demonstrated.
We should know a lot more about each team by around 9 pm Tuesday night. By that time, the curtains on another college hoops season should be officially opened for action.
Scott LaPeer will be at the Ohio State/Florida game Tuesday night in Gainesville. You can follow him on twitter for updates and info at www.twitter.com/SLAPEER