Florida’s 63-59 loss to Michigan State ended in dramatic fashion as the Gators clawed back from multiple double-digit deficits to make it a one-possession game in the final minute. But if one were to take a quick gander at the box score, Michigan State’s frontcourt dominance would seemingly rule out a close contest.
The Spartans scored 36 points in the paint, with forwards Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman combining for 27 points on 12-for-15 shooting. The Gators mustered 26 points of their own inside, but UF’s starting frontcourt of Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone turned in paltry shooting performances in comparison. The duo combined to go 4-for-15 from the field, although the pair did combine for six offensive rebounds. Michigan State’s dominance inside wasn’t lost on the man in charge in East Lansing, Tom Izzo, although the MSU head coach did lament Florida’s rebounding edge against a sizable Spartans frontcourt.
“I thought Nick did a lot of good things early. He struggled a little bit defensively, which is why we can have him out (of the game) a little bit. Xavier was really good defensively and struggled a little bit, although he was pretty good offensively. I thought that Nick, early, was really good. He didn’t rebound as well as we wanted him to, but he was really good.”
For a Gators team that has seen three of its four losses decided by seven points or less, the disparity in the frontcourt and on the glass — the Spartans outrebounded the Gators 36-33 on the afternoon — was the deciding factor in the eyes of UF coach Mike White.
“We had to trap the post, and when they throw it out of the post we stand up and rest instead of sprinting out of the post,” White said. “Which led to open threes, which led to open baseline-drives and layups and dunks.”
Gators take step back on defensive end
Coming into the game, the Spartans had been outscored in the second half just once in nine games this season — and Michigan State still managed to secure a 20-point win in that contest against then-No. 17 UCLA on Nov. 22.
Meaning Florida’s four-point advantage in the second half is a building block of sorts for a Gators team that has struggled this season when attempting to claw back from a deficit.
After trailing 35-27 at the midway point, the Gators outscored the competition 32-28 down the stretch, resulting in a one-possession contest in the waning minutes. Considering Florida couldn’t replicate in the second half the early first-half five-point burst from KeVaughn Allen, however, White found himself lamenting another missed opportunity by the Gators.
“I liked Kevaughn’s aggressiveness. We’re at the point right now where, offensively, obviously we’re searching. We all know that. We’re not a very good offensive team. We have a lot of good offensive pieces though, and I believe we’ll become a good offensive team,” White said. “In the meantime, we can’t take steps backward defensively.”
“Horrific” practices led to defeat
When the dust had settled on Florida’s four-point loss, Allen and White had an opportunity to reflect on the circumstances leading to UF’s defeat. Allen spoke first, eventually admitting the preparation portion was anything but flawless.
“We just got to really focus in practice. We had a couple of bad practices leading up to this game,” Allen said. “It carried over to this game. We just got to clean up the mistakes.”
White didn’t just concur with Allen’s assessment, but rather the fourth-year UF coach opted to take it a few steps further.
“Oh, horrific. No idea, no idea. We weren’t very good two days ago, weren’t very good yesterday. Didn’t sprint out of traps yesterday, probably felt pretty good about ourselves after West Virginia,” White said. “Blew the whistle, started the drill over again several times yesterday, blew the whistle again, talked about it, made them do it right. And it carries over to today.”