After opening the season out of the polls, Florida vaulted into the Top 25 with a win over one of the best teams in the country. Billy Donovan felt his team hardly deserved to be ranked in the top 300 with its latest effort, though.
The 13th-ranked Gators look for a solid performance from start to finish Friday when they visit winless Jacksonville.
Florida (7-0) jumped into the middle of the Top 25 on Monday after beating rival Florida State on Nov. 24, upsetting then-No. 2 Michigan State three days later and knocking off Rutgers in Saturday’s championship game of the Legends Classic in New Jersey.
Donovan was concerned about a letdown following the successful week, and it seemed he had good reason.
The Gators led winless Florida A&M just 37-33 at halftime Tuesday, then opened the second half with a 23-4 spurt en route to an 80-59 victory.
With three upperclassmen in the starting lineup, Donovan expects the team to handle these situations better.
“I thought we lost our focus, and it’s a great opportunity to learn,” Donovan said. “Here’s the same team that beat Rutgers and Michigan State four or five days ago and everyone was talking about rankings.
“I’m not so sure we could have been ranked in the top 300 with the way we played tonight.”
Donovan got solid play from his leaders down the stretch, as senior Dan Werner finished with a team-high 16 points, Alex Tyus added 15 and fellow junior Vernon Macklin had 14. Freshman Kenny Boynton entered the game averaging a team-leading 15.8 points but scored only one, going 0 for 7 from the field, but had a season-high nine assists
The Gators, off to their best start since the 2005-06 national championship team won its first 17 games, hope they can avoid another lackluster first half.
“Every game we’re learning something,” sophomore guard Ray Shipman said. “We learned something from the games this weekend that we can compete with some of the best teams and we learned from this game today that we’re not Superman.
“We still can be beaten. We’re not the No. 1 team in the nation. We’re not a national championship team yet, but we can be.”
Since winning the 2007 national title, Florida has missed the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons.
The Gators were invited to the NIT in March and defeated Jacksonville 84-62 in the first round. Chandler Parsons led Florida with 17 points while Tyus added 13 and Werner 10.
Florida has outscored the Dolphins by an average of 20.6 points in winning the last eight meetings since a 68-67 loss Dec. 21, 1994, and leads the all-time series 27-4.
Jacksonville (0-4), coming off Monday’s 64-54 loss to Georgia State, is set to play its first home game after being outscored by an average of 18.0 points in losing its first four.
The offensive woes continued Monday, as the Dolphins made 3 of 20 from 3-point range and had only two players score in double figures—Ayron Hardy with 11 and Lehmon Colbert 10.
Jacksonville is averaging 63.8 points on 35.2 percent shooting. Getting the offense on track won’t be easy against a Florida team that limits opponents to 56.6 points per game and 37.8 percent shooting.