GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—After the program’s best week in more than 2 1/2 years, Florida coach Billy Donovan was concerned about a letdown.
He addressed it in practice and talked about it again just before Tuesday night’s game against Florida A&M.
It still didn’t really sink in—at least not until halftime.
Dan Werner scored 16 points, Alex Tyus added 15 and No. 13 Florida rebounded from a lackluster first half to beat Florida A&M 80-59.
“Every game we’re learning something,” 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. You can’t just turn it on and turn it off.
“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. We’re just learning every game.”
Vernon Macklin finished with 14 points and seven rebounds for the Gators, who improved to 7-0 for the first time since 2005.
Christopher Walker led the Rattlers (0-9) with 19 points and six rebounds. Yannick Crowder, Amin Stevens and Dale Hughes had eight points each for FAMU, which ended a brutal early season stretch that included trips to Atlanta, Omaha, Neb., Cleveland, Palo Alto, Calif., Mexico and Birmingham, Ala.
“Hats off to Florida,” FAMU coach Eugene Harris said. “Coach Donovan has them playing very well, playing smart.”
Unranked to start the season, Florida jumped into the middle of The Associated Press’ poll Monday after beating rival Florida State, upsetting then-No. 2 Michigan State three days later and knocking off Rutgers in the championship game of the Legends Classic in New Jersey.
It was Donovan’s most successful week since claiming a second consecutive NCAA championship in Atlanta in April 2007. The Gators have been ranked four times since, but never stayed in the poll very long.
Donovan said he thought his team was mature enough now—Florida has four upperclassmen—to handle success better than it did the last two seasons.
The Gators showed a little of that maturity against Florida A&M.
The Rattlers used a 17-4 run late in the first half to turn a 30-16 deficit into a tight game. They forced turnovers, got easy baskets on the break and made 7 of 9 shots over the final 13 minutes. Donovan was so upset with guard Erving Walker that he benched him in favor of a walk-on, a rare occurrence so early in a game.
“I think our guys battled a little bit,” Donovan said. “As a coach, you’re always battling human nature because in coaching and in competition, that’s the greatest conflict. How many teams do you see have a great victory and then come back the next time and they lose?”
Clinging to a 34-33 lead, Werner hit a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Gators a little extra cushion heading into the locker room. He finished 4 of 6 from behind the arc.
The Gators got their act together after the break. They opened the second half with a 23-4 spurt that turned the game into a rout.
Walker finished with 10 points and five assists. Kenny Boynton, out of the starting lineup for the first time this season because of a stomach flu, countered an off shooting night (0 for 7) with nine assists.
The Gators shot 52 percent from the field and made 7 of 20 from 3-point range. They overcame 17 turnovers and had a 41-31 rebounding advantage.
“I thought we came out with the right focus,” Donovan said. “I thought we lost our focus, and it’s a great opportunity to learn. 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.”