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After a frustrating loss to Maryland in Brooklyn on Sunday, Florida returned to the court on Sunday for another neutral-site battle (albeit closer to home this time) against the South Florida Bulls at the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise. Despite this being a Quadrant 4 matchup for the Gators, the Bulls certainly gave them a fight.
UF stretched out a 12-point lead at halftime, but it was outscored in the second half as the Bulls made things interesting down the stretch. Florida held on to get back on track with a 66-55 win, though it wasn’t particularly convincing. This team has a lot to work on before SEC play begins in a couple of weeks, but here’s what we learned from the win over USF, which moves the Gators to 7-3 on the season.
The offensive sloppiness continues to be a concern
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
Florida’s shooting has left a lot to be desired in recent games, and poor shooting performances have been a major reason the team had lost three of its last four heading into Saturday’s game. Against the Bulls, things were a bit better but far from confidence-building. Florida shot just 39% from the field, though its 30.8% mark from beyond the three-point line was an improvement from the way the team had shot from downtown in recent games.
Colin Castleton and Phlandrous Fleming Jr. led the team in scoring with 12 points each, but Castleton continues to struggle with offensive efficiency down low, as he made just three of his nine shots. He was much better from the free-throw line in this game, though, going 6 of 8. That trend carried over to the whole team, which shot 80% on its 15 free-throw attempts.
This game was a slight improvement, but considering the quality of improvement, it’s hard to be impressed with the way the offense played. The general sloppiness remained, as the team had 17 turnovers, 11 of which were steals from the Bulls. Luckily for the Gators, those mistakes only resulted in 16 points for South Florida, but that’s still too much, and a 17 to 12 turnover-to-assist ratio would cause a lot of problems if it happened against a better team.
Florida took advantage of a mismatch inside
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
The Bulls were without 7-foot center Russel Tchewa on Saturday, and without the size inside to match up with Florida’s 6-foot-11-inch center Colin Castleton, UF had a fairly dominant performance inside. The team has been outrebounded in recent games, including when it got doubled up in rebounds by Texas Southern. This time around, the team fared much better in that regard.
It out-rebounded the Bulls 45-27 in total and 18-7 on offensive boards. Six of those offensive rebounds came from Castleton, who had a double-double in this one with 11 rebounds. But that number was likely a result of his relatively poor shooting performance, and he was able to recover his own rebounds due to his size advantage under the basket. Still, UF’s bigs had a good day, as Anthony Duruji scored 11 points and nearly had a double-double of his own with nine rebounds.
But it wasn’t all impressive for Florida on the interior. USF shot a solid 42.1% from the field, and nearly half of their points (26, to be exact) came in the paint. For a team that is undersized, that’s too many for the Gators to allow. The defense was a bit better in terms of guarding the perimeter, though. The Bulls shot just 18.2% from three, and only two players scored in double figures.
Guard Caleb Murphy, the only USF player averaging double-digit points coming into the game, led the way with 16 points followed by guard Javon Greene with 10. While Florida’s defense looked a bit better in this one, it won’t have the benefit of a massive size advantage inside in most games once SEC play rolls around.
Florida avoids what would have been a disastrous loss
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
The last two weeks of basketball for Florida have gone about as poorly as you could draw it up. After suffering its first setback of the season against Oklahoma on Dec. 5, the Gators were upset at home by a previously winless Texas Southern team. They avoided a loss to a bad North Florida team two days after that, but a blowout win over the Ospreys didn’t carry any momentum into the Maryland game.
The loss to the Terrapins counts as a Quadrant 3 loss, and Texas Southern has risen enough in the NET to be considered a Quadrant 3 loss for Florida, as well, instead of the Quadrant 4 loss it originally was. But that’s tenuous, and based on the way Saturday’s game played out, UF was closer to suffering another Quadrant 4 loss than the final score would show.
The Gators are already trending in the wrong direction, but dropping a game to a USF team that ranks No. 263 in the NET would have made things a lot worse. The team will still enter SEC play with a solid 9-3 record if it can get past Stony Brook at home on Wednesday night, but it opens SEC play with an incredibly tough gauntlet, facing Ole Miss on the road in the opener on Dec. 29 followed by Quadrant 1 games against Alabama, Auburn and LSU.
It’s hard to give Florida too much credit for getting past a team it should have had no problems with, but in a game that the Gators led by just three with under 10 minutes to play, this one could have fairly easily flipped in the opposite direction. If that happened, UF’s season would be practically dead in the water before even starting conference play.