Outplayed: Florida pays price for turnovers as lengthy SEC win streak ends
ATHENS, Ga. — The first question lobbed at Florida coach Billy Donovan after Saturday’s game had to do with his team’s maturity and how his players dealt with the challenge of winning a home game Thursday night and being back on the floor just 43 hours later.
HIs answer: "The performance says it all."
The Georgia Bulldogs were on the attack from the opening tip in a start-to-finish 73-61 thrashing of the mistake-prone Gators before a crowd of 10,523 that represented the first Stegeman Coliseum sellout of the season. Many in the crowd were UF fans, but they had little to cheer about, save a late first-half stretch and a few measly ticks of the second before UF’s 24-game Southeastern Conference winning streak — tied for fourth-longest in league history — became Dawg meat.
Forward Marcus Thornton scored 16 points, hitting all but one of his eight field-goal tries and grabbing six rebounds. Guard Kenny Gaines had 16 points also, but most of his came from deep, where he went 4-for-5 from the 3-point line. Overall, UGA hit 56 percent for the game, a sizzling 64.7 in the second half, and 53.3 percent from long distance (8-for-15).
"That was a great win for Georgia," Bulldogs coach Mark Fox said.
Conversely, it was a bad loss for the visiting team; not because the Dawgs are a bad team — they’re not; they came at No. 26 in RPI — but because the Gators did plenty to contribute to the outcome.
While Florida (10-7, 3-1) shot at least 50 percent for just the fifth time this season, the Gators torpedoed themselves with a season-worst 19 turnovers. Eight of those giveaways came during the first seven minutes of the second half, just after UF cut what was a 15-point lead to just two, allowing Georgia (11-5, 2-2) to take the lead back out to double-digits.
"They outplayed us, simple as that," UF freshman forward Devin Robinson said. "They played harder and executed their plays better."
Robinson and junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith had 11 points, with junior guard Michael Frazier tossing in 10. With so many empty possessions — 10 of the turnovers were committed by guards — not many points were going to be scored.
"I’m on the bench looking for guys to play, to be honest with you," Donovan said. "There was nobody I could look at and say, ‘[He’s] a guy I can put in there who’s going to play really well.’ "
The combination of Kasey Hill, Chris Chiozza and Eli Carter, the team’s best ball-handlers, had six assists and nine turnovers against a Georgia defense that isn’t particularly known for its pressure.
It was that kind of day, that kind of end to an SEC winning streak that started with the opening league game of last year. UF’s previous loss to a conference opponent came March 17, 2013 in a 63-60 defeat in the SEC Tournament title game at Nashville.
"You don’t play for streaks or go into games thinking about streaks," senior walk-on forward Jake Kurtz said. "We just got beat."
The scouting report warned not to let Georgia get cranked up from the 3-point line. Well, the Dawgs started the game 7-for-7 from the floor and 4-for-4 from deep. If that sounds like bad news, consider the Gators missed their first six shots.
The UGA lead was 11-0, then 19-4, before Florida snapped out of it and began crawling back in the game. The Gators hit 12 of their last 18 field-goal attempts of the period to close within five, then opened the second with Robinson sinking a 3-ball to make the score 34-32.
"We’re in the game," Donovan said.
Then came a Georgia layup, a UF turnover, a Georgia free throw, two missed Chris Walker free throws, a a Georgia basket and another turnover.
A 3-pointer by Frazier kept the lead within six barely five minutes in, but two more UF turnovers aided a 10-1 blitz by the Dawgs that quickly made it a 15-point game that looked very much like the early goings.
And then the Gators weren’t in the game.
Georgia was never really threatened.
"When you’re down, you can’t turn the ball over because you put extreme pressure on yourself to get stops … and it’s hard to get stops when you have live-ball turnovers and you’re not in position to play defense," Kurtz said. "But even when we our defense was set, we didn’t get stops and we didn’t guard the 3-point line. They deserved to beat us."
Kurtz is not a young guy, but he’s a surrounded by a bunch who got a dose of reality of just how difficult this SEC season is going to be.
Something their coach already knew and tried to bury in their heads since last spring.
"We’re very inconsistent," Donovan said. "For a lot of these guys, it’s overwhelming and draining to come every day and have the focus and attention to detail and be consistent. … There’s not a game I go into where I say, ‘Hey, we’re going to be fine.’ "
The next one is Tuesday at home against LSU. He’ll feel the same way.