Mike White put his head down and ran his hand down his face, the sign of a parent beyond frustrated.
“I don’t even know how to answer that,” he admitted.
The question came courtesy of an admission by players, that the No. 6 Florida Gators had bought some of their own preseason hype, in which they were predicted to be a Final Four team. That’s still very possible. But nothing looks promising after today.
The No. 6 Florida Gators (1-1) fell to FSU (1-1) by a score of 63-51 in front of a crowd of 10,851 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. A day after the No. 10 football team put up 56 points across the street, the basketball team struggled to break the half century mark on the court and brought into question just how much of that preseason hype should be believed. The fact that the players are wondering that as while has Mike White changing his approach to what it will take to coach them after the loss.
“I don't even like the fact that they're talking about it, honestly, because that shows you the buy-in of not believing the hype. I guess there was hype. Crazy.
“The reality is we've got a talented senior, we have three sophomores that honestly came off 16 losses, we have two juniors that are hurt, we have five freshman that have no idea how to play a high-level game. And you've got a coach who did a horrible job today, especially offensively. That's who we are.
“Ranking this and that, hype this and that, when our kids go to class on Monday they're going to be told how bad they are. It's crazy what these kids have to deal with outside of just locking in on being better or buying into what we're trying to do on a daily basis. Who knows what that is?
“It might mean we're an NIT team. It might mean we can win a national championship. I have no idea. That's where they are. That's where we are. Our guys, back to what happened last year in the opener, it's happened to us a few years now. I can't imagine our guys were overconfident. I can believe they said that, but if they are then I've really got my hands full."
White said last week that he wasn’t looking forward to watching the film of the Gators 2019 loss to Florida State. It’s going to be a long time before he’ll want to watch film from today either.
The Gators started slow, their only saving grace that the Seminoles did as well. Just over six minutes into the game, with FSU leading 8-5, Gators freshman Scottie Lewis checked in. The guard helped provide a spark of tenacity and UF was able to take a 9-8 lead at the under-12 media timeout.
From there, the Gators were going punch for punch with the Noles, albeit punches that were more swings that hoped to land as opposed to fighter strength punches.
With just over two minutes to play in the 1st, the Noles took a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the game. The performance required some brutal honesty from this entire team and Mike White himself.
“I didn’t think we played well in the first half; an early evaluation on this team, I thought we, I felt good being down four at half. I thought we’d clean up some things offensively, get the ball moving a little bit better, throw that thing in the post a little bit more, make a couple of 3s and settle in. But defensively we weren’t as sharp there…I mean, three balls with no one within no more than 15 feet within of guys, and we’ve got two players guarding one guy on the other side of the floor. Just a complete lack of communication and discipline.
"But as we struggled to score it effected our defense, as well. We weren’t very good. I wasn’t very good, period.”
The FSU defense was stifling, holding the Gators grad transfer star Kerry Blackshear Jr. to no field goals, all 10 of his points coming from the free-throw line; coming from ACC Virginia Tech, he was expecting as such.
“I’ve been playing them for four years, this is nothing new.”
While Blackshear has been playing FSU for four years and the Gators have now lost six straight to the Noles, this is a young team, as White mentioned above. They have to gain more experience and two games into a long season isn’t when it will come. But still, there was hope…
“We were hopeful that in this one, you’d get over this one and if you played really, really well you could end the streak,” admitted White.
“I tell our guys at practice all the time how far away we are, whether they believe me or not…we’ve got a ways to go…we just have to buy into a whole other level of what we’re trying to do.”
Sophomore Keyontae Johnson said that was White’s message after the game to the team as well.
“[Coach White] just basically tell us we need to focus more on what we doing at shoot arounds and stuff and film wise cause our lack of focus showed in the second half and instead of like coming out of timeouts, we wasn’t doing what he asked.
“Focus more, buy-in to what he’s saying and we’ll win more games. And just lock in more on film and shoot around…buy-in to the defensive possession. Like we was giving up open three’s in transition, and we wasn’t talking as much. So that’s what he means by like buy-in and stuff.”
The open three’s in transition—even long jumpers—proved fatal in the second half. Every time Florida would cobble something together, FSU would answer. The Noles went 20-55 (5-17 from downtown), while the Gators stumbled to a 14-50 total (4-22 from beyond the arc). Save a three from Andrew Nembhard and another from Tre Mann, it was Keyontae Johnson who accounted for the Gators field goals in the second half. He finished 8-12 for 19 points in 30 minutes, a team high.
“I was just going with the rhythm and when Coach was calling green, I was just happening to get to the right each time, I was just going past my defender,” said Johnson of his performance.
Added Mike White, “In this game, I would say he was the one guy that as they make you drive it, as their defense was really extended and you call a play and you try to get it here and everything is denied and you get really stagnant, OK, one of us put our head down and drive it. He's got an ability to do that. He made some really good plays, 8-of-12, especially in the second half. I thought he was really good.
"We've got to get him rebounding the ball more. His motor late last year got really good. And we've had meetings about getting that type of motor back similar to how hard he was playing.”
But whatever bright spot Keyontae Johnson or any Gator might have had on Sunday afternoon is moot and dimmed with the loss to a bitter rival. The silver lining is the humbleness that accompanied the loss and the knowledge now of what it will take to rebound.
“We know there’s a lot of things we have to work on. I think playing that game makes it more evident for us. It can be a big wake-up call and show how this team can band together rather than splinter,” said Blackshear.
Added Nembhard “definitely disappointing, any L’s a disappointment. But it’s very, very early in the season, so we’re just going to learn from it and just keep going.”
And Johnson didn’t shy away from the harsh reality of what this loss means in the present but also the change it can wrought in the future.
“I feel like we had a lot of hype behind our name so it probably got to like some of the players, like me as well. Saying that we was a top ranked team. This game can like show us that we really not that good, like we’ve got room to improve on.
“This game like really showed up like what our weakness is on defense and offense, like what we need to get better on…I feel like we still have much more to improve on.”