There were stretches – a couple of them lasting more than three minutes – that the Florida Gators looked every like the kids they are. Of the 11 players who got in the Gators' 89-71 exhibition game victory over Lynn University at the O-Dome Tuesday night, grad transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. was the only one of the 10 players Mike White got into the game that wasn't a freshman or a sophomore. Blackshear played like he's been there and done that as did sophomores Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson and Noah Locke. As for the six freshmen, each of them had at least one or two impressive moments but each of them had some moments when they struggled, which was to be expected.
Nembhard, who led the Gators with 17 points and six assists to go with four rebounds and a steal, caught fire offensively at the beginning of the second half when he hit three straight thee-pointers. Blackshear had 16 points and 10 rebounds to go with one assist, one blocked shot and one seal. Johnson had 12 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals and Locke had nine points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Then there were the freshmen. Tre Mann, who got the start on the strength of a good week of practice, scored 13 points but he wasn't pleased with his game.
“I missed a couple open shots, missed a free throw and got burned on a couple of back doors defensively,” he said. “I've got to do better than that.”
Omar Payne had nine points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots in 19 minutes. Scottie Lewis had five points, five rebounds, three blocked shots, one assist and one steal in 26 minutes. Ques Glover had six points, one rebound, one assist and one steal and Jason Jitoboh played surprisingly well in his 14 minutes on the floor, scoring two points to go with four rebounds, one blocked shot and a steal. Preferred walk-on Alex Klatsky played two minutes and didn't scratch.
White was quite pleased with Jitoboh, who has shed approximately 40 pounds since arriving on campus.
“Jason Jitoboh has had a heckuva month,” White said. “It took him awhile to make that big jump with his weight and his conditioning, but since then he's taken off with his confidence level. He struggled from the foul line (0-4) but he did some good things tonight.”
The Gators held a 32-14 first half lead when they hit one of those stretches when nothing seemed to go right. Playing mostly with four freshmen, the Gators went more three minutes without scoring, a stretch broken by a Johnson dunk off a steal that increased Florida's lead to 34-18. That woke the Gators up and they finished the half ahead by 23 (49-29) on a step back three-pointer at the buzzer by Blackshear.
After bolting to a 60-29 lead in the first three minutes of the second half when Nembhard started feeling it from deep, the Gators went into another funk, scoring only five points over the next 3:30. There was also a defensive lapse that allowed Lynn's Jordan Allen to get cranked up. Allen hit six of his nine three-pointers in the second half, finishing the game with 35 points. Some of Allen's shots were well beyond NBA range and fairly well defended, but White wasn't pleased with the effort he saw.
“Defensively, I thought we were exposed a little,” White said.
White pointed out a couple of areas on defense that have to get better, especially for the young guys:
Rebounding: “A shot goes up you've got to block out and then go pursue the basketball. We didn't do that at a very high level.”
Communication: “Our guys need to understand that communication is a two way street. It's talking and then it's listening. A lot of times we've got two guys out there screaming something at each other but nobody's listening.”
The good news was this game didn't count and the film will provide plenty of teaching points as the Gators get ready for their first real game next Tuesday night when North Florida comes to Gainesville. White had to be pleased with the collective effort of his four veteran players since all four were productive at both ends of the floor.
While he might seem critical of the freshmen, he saw enough to know they'll get better with experience.
“Freshmen are freshmen,” White said. “They may be a little rusty tonight and great next week and then struggle two weeks later. When they start playing like sophomores, you've got really good freshmen.”