GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Florida coach Billy Donovan figures his team is “very disappointed” considering its preseason ranking.
Then again, “I didn’t rank us,” Donovan said.
Kenny Boynton scored 21 points, Alex Tyus added 19 and No. 16 Florida beat Florida Atlantic 79-66 on Tuesday night. The Gators (4-1) probably should have dominated the Owls with their size and depth, but they needed a second-half surge and some late foul trouble to pull away.
Now, after an 18-point loss to third-ranked Ohio State, a six-point win over Morehead State and this, Donovan believes his guys—which opened the season at No. 9—have “a long way to go to be considered an elite team.”
“We’re trying to take the next step,” Donovan said. “The preseason rankings and all that stuff, we can’t control. That’s kind of what it is, so I’ve never really evaluated or looked at ourselves as being this top-10 team. … That’s not who we are.
“We’re a team that’s got to get a whole lot better and really improve. I’m not going to compare our team against where we’re ranked or where people think we should be because as a coach I know where we’re at.”
Erving Walker chipped in 14 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Gators, who showed some fatigue while playing for the fourth time in eight days.
Florida struggled early against the Owls (3-3), allowing them to shoot nearly 50 percent from the floor in the first half and giving up way too many easy baskets. The Gators, meanwhile, missed free throws and failed to make the most of their height advantage.
Florida settled down in the second half and really turned things around when Brett Royster, the Sun Belt Conference’s defensive player of the year in 2009, picked up his fourth foul with 16:43 remaining.
The Owls trailed 39-38 when Royster picked up his fourth, and the Gators responded by building a double-digit lead.
“He stopped playing after his fourth foul,” FAU coach Mike Jarvis said. “He would have been better off fouling out sooner.”
Florida pushed the lead to 57-47 with 7:35 remaining, but Raymond Taylor hit consecutive jumpers to get it close again. Royster then fouled out, and Kore White joined him on the bench about 30 seconds later. White finished with 12 points and five rebounds.
Florida pulled away from there. Nonetheless, Jarvis was pleased with his team’s effort.
“Hopefully we set the bar at a different height and it has the word ‘compete’ on it,” Jarvis said.
Gainesville natives Greg Gantt and Dennis Mavin led the way for FAU. With friends, family members and former high school teammates rooting them on from the stands, Gantt scored 17 points and Mavin added 10.
“If they were a few inches taller, I wouldn’t be sitting here with them,” Jarvis said. “They’d be in Florida’s locker room.”
Raymond Taylor (13) and Alex Tucker (10) also scored in double figures for the Owls.
“In the long run, this game should help us,” Jarvis said. “We’re trying to become a legitimate mid-major program. … Certainly this is a step in the right direction.”
Vernon Macklin, playing with tendinitis and pain in his right knee, had five points and 11 rebounds for Florida. Leading scorer and rebounder, Chandler Parsons, was scoreless for nearly 36 minutes. He finished with eight points and six boards.
The teams were nearly identical on the stat sheet—except for rebounding. The Gators dominated the glass, outrebounding FAU 45-30. The rebounding edge led to 18 second-chance points, most of them coming in the second half after Donovan challenged Tyus and Macklin.
“He just wanted us to be more aggressive, attack the rim, rebound, get a defensive stance and be ready for the slips because they kept burning us on slip plays,” Macklin said.