TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In previewing his team’s matchup with Florida State, Florida coach Mike White had acknowledged he had no illusions about shutting down star Seminoles guard Dwayne Bacon.
He just hoped his defense could force Bacon into tough shots and limit his impact on the game, but even the tough shots were falling on Sunday.
Like the three-point play with a little more than 8 minutes left in the second half. Bacon used a nifty spin move to shed a defender while getting into the paint, then hung in the air long enough to draw a foul before sinking both the short jumper and the ensuing free throw.
Bacon was just too much for the No. 21 Gators, scoring 16 of his game-high 24 points after halftime as Florida State seized the momentum and ultimately held on for an 83-78 win inside the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.
Afterward, White was asked what made the Seminoles’ star so hard to contain.
“When he walked on the court for warm-ups,” White quipped. “He’s really, really talented. I thought he broke down our defense again early second half, probably gained a little bit of confidence off the dribble, just making plays.”
Bacon shot 7 of 11 after halftime and helped Florida State (10-1) take control of the game early in that second half, scoring 9 of his points during a pivotal 18-6 run, turning a tie game into a 56-44 lead for the hosts.
The Gators (7-3) didn’t go away, though, twice cutting their deficit to 3 points in the final minutes.
After Canyon Barry banked in a short jumper with about a minute and a half remaining, Florida State missed on the other end and KeVaughn Allen got a clean look at a potential game-tying 3. But it didn’t go down, and the Seminoles eventually closed out the win at the foul line.
Allen, who is Florida’s leading scorer this season, had played just 7 minutes in the first half while picking up 3 fouls before halftime, but sparked the late rally and scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half.
The Gators had their chances late, but White was ultimately most disappointed in seeing another second-half defensive letdown in a big game.
“It’s been a common theme for us defensively in all three of our losses, in the second half it’s just not the same — (43 or more) points in our three losses, for whatever reason,” White said. “We’ve got to maintain that energy level, that intensity level, the communication level when we’re away from our bench because we can’t afford to drop those levels against a team, against a guy like Dwayne Bacon. He’s not the only guy, of course, but he comes to mind first and foremost.”
Player of the game: Dwayne Bacon
Again, the Gators knew the challenge they faced in guarding the 6-foot-7 sophomore guard, and they simply didn’t execute as White would have liked.
“(He) probably caught it in spots late second half where he was operating with a live bounce a little bit closer to the rim than we would have liked him to be operating,” White said. “Because he’s just got an ability, again, with a high release, with an ability to fade a little bit with that release and his ability really just to jump over you as a defender. So, we needed more ball pressure on him. A couple of his baskets, I want to say before going back and looking at the film were results of switches, and when you switch on a guy like that, we talk about switching high and not letting him get a head of steam, whether it’s to his left hand, to his right hand or downhill. We’ve got to switch higher to guys like that.”
Said point guard Kasey Hill: “Just straight line drives. We’ve got to step in front of him and cut him off and we didn’t do that.”
Stat line of the game
The Gators fed off Hill in the first half as he scored 15 of the team’s 34 points, heading into the break just one point shy of his single-game season high.
Hill was 7 of10 from the field in that opening half, while his teammates combined for just 4 field goals.
He got off to a slow start in the second half, but he eventually eclipsed his previous career high of 20 points while finishing with 21 on 10-of-15 shooting overall. He also had 5 turnovers in the loss.
“I honestly don’t care. We lost the game, and if we would have won the game, I would be way happier,” Hill said of his career high.
The Seminoles used that 18-6 run over the first part of the second half to build a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
It was a 38-38 game a few minutes into the half when Bacon knocked down a short jumper and then followed with a fast-break layup to capitalize on a steal by Terance Mann.
Allen got two points back for Florida on a layup, but the momentum had already started to turn. Michael Ojo threw down an alley-up dunk on the other end and Bacon followed with driving layup and free throw.
After Trent Forrest dropped in a fast-break layup a few series later, White’s frustrations boiled over with the officials. He was whistled for a technical foul.
The Seminoles missed both free throws, but it didn’t matter.
Bacon followed the next time down court with another layup to push the lead to 56-44.
“They got a couple of steals off of turnovers, a couple of and-1s and they got to the free throw line off of our mistakes, and they went up on us,” Hill said. “I mean, you could definitely feel the momentum changing for them, but we stayed together. We did a good job of not quitting.”
The Gators have their final neutral-site game Saturday against Charlotte in Sunrise, Fla., before the reopening of the renovated Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center.
Charlotte is off to a 6-3 start, but the 49ers are coming off a 91-74 loss to Wake Forest on Dec. 6. They have an 11-day gap between games before taking on Florida.
They are led by sophomore guard Jon Davis, who is averaging 20.2 points per game and shooting 52.9 percent from 3-point range (18 of 34).
Defense, meanwhile, is an issue for Charlotte, which ranks 303rd nationally in allowing 79.9 points per game.
Florida-Florida State box score