BATON ROUGE, La. — Billy Donovan was wrapping up his post-game news conference when his words just sort of tailed off.
"Overall, it’s the same theme for me," Donovan said after Florida’s 70-63 loss Saturday at Louisiana State. "It’s the same song after every game. After a while, there’s really not much more I can say."
Pick a Gator — any Gator — to sing that song. Chances are, he’d be off key.
Sort of like all those shots off the mark these days.
While LSU forward Jarell Martin pounded away from both inside and out for 28 points and 13 rebounds, Florida clanged away on offense by shooting just 35 percent from the floor and 26 from 3-point range in dropping its fifth game of the last six. The Gators (13-14, 6-8) had yet another stone-cold start as the Tigers (19-8, 8-6) scored the game’s first 12 points, then weathered a respectable UF comeback before turnovers and more missed shots eventually doomed the visitors at the Maravich Center.
Forward Jordan Mickey scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds, while guard Keith Hornsby threw in 12 points for an LSU team that shot just 40 percent for the game, but still never trailed by less than six in the second half. Instead, the Tigers enjoyed a double-digit cushion a good portion the period while UF — playing without leading scorers Michael Frazier II (ankle injury) and Dorian Finney-Smith (suspended) — had no starters hit 50 percent of their shots.
Junior guard Eli Carter (14 points, 4 rebounds) opened the game just 1-for-9 before finishing 4-for-14. Freshman forward Devin Robinson (12 points, 7 rebounds) made five of his 13 attempts, but turned the ball over four times. Junior forward Alex Murphy made just two of his 10 shots; only one of his five 3-point tries. Sophomore point guard Kasey Hill (9 points, 5 assists) went 4-for-11 with four turnovers. Senior center Jon Horford went 2-for-8 with a couple missed layups.
Make that seven consecutive games the Gators have shot below 32 percent from long distance and five of seven when they’ve shot in the 30s overall.
The numbers for all their SEC games aren’t much better.
"That’s a large-sized body of work," Donovan said of the sample size.
With Frazier and Finney-Smith perhaps out through next week, this is who the Gators are.
"We just have to continue to believe," Carter said. "The season isn’t over yet. We have four or five more games, [so] just continue to work and continue to believe."
Donovan talks all the time about his team’s minimal margin for error and yet 12-0 deficits to start the game continue to be a habit with this bunch. By scoring the first dozen points of the game, the Tigers were the fourth team this season to jump to a lead of at least 12-0. But unlike the times against North Carolina in the Bahamas (where the Gators drew no closer than seven), or at Georgia (they got it to two) and at Vanderbilt (15-0, but cut to three), UF showed moxie by storming back with 13 straight points to go ahead 26-24 on a Robinson dunk with 2:40 to play in the half.
What the Gators had to do from that point — had to do — was fend off any surge by the Tigers that would allow the home team to steal momentum and take it to the locker room.
"I told them that was getting ready to happen," Donovan said of LSU’s anticipated charge late in the half that became an inevitability. "The run had nothing to do with them and everything to do with us."
It came swiftly, furiously and violently.
It started with a dunk by Mickey that tied the game at the 2:06 mark. That stopped UF’s run of 13 straight points. Not a problem. On to the next possession.
Except the next one ended just five seconds later when a Hill pass in the Florida halfcourt was intercepted in stride by Martin, whose easy run-out ended with circus-act slam-dunk that he put between his legs before throwing it down. The LSU fans enjoyed that. Little did they know the Tigers would never trail again.
"I’m not sure at that time we needed all of the other extra there," LSU coach Johnny Jones said of Martin’s extra-curricular street-ball slam. "I’m glad it went in and we were able to make the basket. At the same time, I thought it gave us a great deal of energy because we came right back with another steal in the open floor and scored another basket."
True that. On the next possession, it was Robinson’s turn to gift-wrap a turnover. Again, it became Tigers in transition, with Jalyn Patterson lobbing an alley-oop that Tim Quarterman crammed for a four-point lead at the 1:33 mark that excited the masses. Timeout, Gators.
After two more missed shots, LSU wound the clock down to the end and Martin let fly — and swished — a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Tigers to intermission with a nine-point run of momentum and sudden seven-point lead.
"You can’t let that dishearten you," said Horford, who scored six points and grabbed nine rebounds, helping UF out-perform the bigger Tigers on the glass 42-36. "When something like that happens, we have to give it our best right back."
Three minutes into the second half, the lead was back up to 13 and on its way to 16. The Gators did well to cut it to six, but there’s only so much coming back a team can do when shots aren’t falling and no one’s getting to the free throw line. UF shot 12 free throws. Martin shot 16 of LSU’s 27.
Same sour notes.
"With a team like we have, and shooting it like we shoot it, you have no margin for error," Donovan reiterated. "So you better be highly competitive and highly disciplined. I’ve said from Day 1, that’s [been] a struggle and challenge for these guys."