GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Al Horford received a surprising phone call after Florida’s loss at Florida State on Sunday.
Former Gators assistant Anthony Grant, now the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth, called and ripped Horford for his four-point, six-rebound effort against the Seminoles.
“He really got after me,” Horford said.
He must have gotten his attention, too.
Horford scored a career-high 21 points and added 13 rebounds, helping the seventh-ranked Gators rebound from their second loss of the season with an 85-67 victory over Providence on Wednesday night.
Grant wasn’t pleased with any of Florida’s big men, the players he worked so closely with the last few years. Joakim Noah and Chris Richard responded much like Horford.
Noah had 17 points, six rebounds, four steals, four assists and three blocks. Richard made all seven of his free throws and finished with 11 points off the bench.
“He said he didn’t like the way that me and Jo and Chris looked out there,” Horford said. “I met with (assistant) Coach (Donnie) Jones as well, and they told me I had to get my mind right.”
Horford said the conversation was a wake-up call.
“I think we were playing laid back,” Horford said. “He let us know. He let us have it. He said we have to bring that intensity every night.”
Horford was 8-of-13 from the field against Providence, and Noah was 6-of-7 despite playing with a respiratory infection.
It was a big turnaround from how they played in Tallahassee. Horford took just two shots and didn’t play as aggressively as coach Billy Donovan wanted. Noah scored 11 points but had just four rebounds. Richard had two points.
Donovan pointed out their troubles during a painful-to-watch video session Monday.
“Sometimes film doesn’t lie, and it gave me an opportunity to be very truthful of how I feel and what I’m seeing,” Donovan said. “Any time you get on a player, or you’re coaching a player and doing it in a fashion of being called out, sometimes guys will point their finger and say, ‘It’s not me. I’m not the problem.’
“Guys on this team accept responsibility. I was probably very hard on them, but besides being hard, I was brutally honest. … Hopefully we don’t have to have a lot of sessions like that this year.”
The players agreed with Donovan’s critique. But Grant’s call may have hammered it home.
“We’ve been playing horrible the last few games, Florida State, Kansas, a few games in-between,” Richard said. “I guess (Donovan) let a lot of small things get bigger and then we started getting exposed. He brought it to us and we’ve just focused in and worked hard on it.”
The Gators (8-2) improved to 7-0 at home and played their third consecutive game without forward Corey Brewer (mononucleosis).
The latest victory left Donovan one shy of tying Norm Sloan (235) for the most in school history. Donovan can tie Sloan on Dec. 17, against Florida A&M in Tampa.
Florida plans to use the extended break to get healthy, hoping Brewer will return against No. 5 Ohio State on Dec. 23, and hoping Noah will overcome his breathing troubles.
Noah showed little effects from the infection against the Friars (6-2). He scored seven of Florida’s first nine points.
“I think the stage was set by our front court,” said Donovan, who improved to 3-0 against his alma mater, the school he led to the Final Four in 1987.
Weyinmi Efejuku led the Friars with 22 points, while Geoff McDermott added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
“Our guys battled,” Providence coach Tim Welsh said. “We’ll learn from this. We understand that it’s a very good team we played—an elite team—and it’s not unlike going to Pittsburgh or Connecticut or any of those places.”
Sharaud Curry’s 25-footer in the final seconds of the first half brought the Friars within 40-34, but Florida pulled away with a 17-3 run early in the second half—thanks mostly to Horford.
Horford scored nine points in the first 10 minutes of the half, taking advantage of Florida’s size to dominate inside.
“We wanted to make a statement,” Horford said. “We didn’t play our best at Florida State. We just wanted to bounce back. … I feel like I didn’t bring enough energy. You can make excuses like that, but at the end of the day, I have to be able to bring it for the team.”