Another missed opportunity, another close loss to another good team.
Retin was out with a hip flexor, so Algie Key got the start. Coop also started over Levi.
Florida is a difficult team for us to defend. If we played man to man, I have no doubt Billy Donovan would have exploited our bigs with Patrick Young in the post. So, we opted to play zone most of the game, hoping the Gators would have trouble shooting on the road. It was a strategy that made sense, but Florida moves the ball too well and will almost always be able to get an open look from the corner or wing. They made enough of them to win. I did think we should have switched to a man the first time Young came out of the game. We got a stop when we went man to man later in the second half when Young was on the bench with foul trouble.
On one hand, it's frustrating to think about all of the missed shots near the basket in the 2nd half, but at the same time we were very fortunate to be in the game at halftime. Our offense in the first half was atrocious, but somehow we managed to score on several possessions where we either nearly turned the ball over multiple times, or threw up contested shots at the end of the shot clock that clanked off the rim and went in.
Florida would use both defenders on Releford whenever we would set the high ball screens, and they were able to limit him to 14 points. Shannon Hale had a nice game and was able to step up and help with the scoring to keep it close. Unfortunately, Hale had an awful foul at the end of the first half leading to a 4 point play, which stretched the halftime lead from 3 to 7.
I'm proud of the players for continuing to battle. As disappointing as this season has been, there were several points in this game when Florida got up by 8-12 points when it would have been very easy to fold and call it a night. Instead they were able to scrap back each time and get the deficit down to 5 or 6, but as usual, couldn't make the big plays when they had to.
I thought Levi played well despite passing up a couple of open shots, he was generally more aggressive and scored 11 off the bench. His free throws, and then the steal in the press in the final 2 minutes gave Bama one more opportunity to make a game of it. I thought we should have tried to press earlier. I know Florida has too many good athletes to press most of the game, but I would have liked to have seen the occasional full court press after a made free throw just to try to disturb their rhythm a bit.
Nick Jacobs actually had a solid game and I thought he should have played a little more. For some reason he seems to only show up against the likes of Patrick Young, Jarnell Stokes, and Nerlens Noel, guys who you would think would be an awful matchup for him. Carl had a good game defensively with 5 rebounds and an awesome blocked shot on a dunk attempt that ignited the crowd. Unfortunately Cooper continues to struggle, he was 3 of 12 including 1 of 5 from 3-point range. He needs to be taking the ball to the basket more, because with his hard, line drive shot he's never going to be a consistent shooter.
The crowd was disappointing considering it was a nationally televised game against a top 10 SEC opponent. Perhaps the early start time and the cold temperatures kept some folks away. The student section was almost completely full, but even they did not sell out. I would estimate there was around 10,000 there, with Florida bringing nearly 1,000 or so of their own fans. The Florida support was impressive for a midweek road game.
Congratulations to the women's team for going on the road and upsetting a top 10 Kentucky team. That is a huge win for first year coach Kristy Curry, and she certainly appears to have that program heading in the right direction.
Up next for the men, the LSU Tigers come to Coleman for a 7pm tipoff Saturday night that will be televised by ESPN2. We will have our hands full trying to start a new home winning streak; LSU's front-court appears to be a very difficult matchup for us.