Well, the Florida men’s basketball team didn’t have the prettiest of preseason tune-ups Wednesday night, but coach Mike White and his staff at least got to evaluate the players in action against an actual opponent.
After trailing by a point at halftime to Division II Eckerd College, the Gators pulled away in the second half on the way to a 91-63 win in their lone preseason exhibition game.
It was played at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, where the Gators will also open the regular season Nov. 11 against Florida Gulf Coast while renovations continue on the O’Connell Center.
As for the exhibition, here were three key takeaways:
White had said on Tuesday that he wasn’t necessarily close to settling on a starting lineup and that as many as nine players were still competing for those five spots.
He also said that he was open to changing the lineup from game to game, so don’t read too much into the starters he trotted out Wednesday night against Eckerd.
For what it’s worth, though, junior Chris Chiozza started at point guard, sophomore KeVaughn Allen started at the other guard spot, junior Devin Robinson and senior Justin Leon started as forwards, and junior John Egbunu manned center.
Allen and Egbunu are expected to be fixtures in the lineup. It’s also worth noting that senior point guard Kasey Hill didn’t play because of a hamstring issue.
Egbunu led the way with 18 points and 13 rebounds in 21 minutes. Allen had 13 points and 6 steals while shooting 4-of-10 overall and 0 of 3 on 3-point attempts. Robinson and 12 points and 8 boards. And Leon, Chiozza and graduate transfer guard Canyon Barry each added 11 points.
Barry played 27 minutes off the bench, tied for the second on the team, but he shot just 2-of-10 overall and 1 of 5 on 3s.
Shaky long-distance connection
On Tuesday, White had spoken of how well players such as Allen, Robinson and Barry were hitting the 3 in practice, though he did offer a disclaimer.
“I don’t know that that’s going to be our strength, but I do anticipate shooting it better than we did a year ago,” he said.
Florida was just 5-of-18 overall on 3-pointers Wednesday, shooting at 27.8 percent. Allen, Robinson and Barry, meanwhile, were 2 of 11 combined from beyond the arc.
Last season, Florida shot just 31.9 percent from 3-point range to rank 290th nationally. The Gators shot 42.6 percent overall from the field in 2015-16 to rank 242nd.
On Wednesday, they managed to hit 47.8 percent from the field in the exhibition.
Egbunu makes the most of his minutes
Egbunu was the clear star Wednesday and could be an even bigger factor in his second campaign with the Gators after averaging 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds last season, starting 30 of his 34 games.
After starting his career at South Florida and then sitting out a season following his transfer to the Gators, the 6-foot-11 center had some really nice moments last season.
He scored 22 and 27 points in back-to-back games against LSU and Kentucky near the end of the regular season, but his role in the offense was inconsistent. He had just 3 shot attempts in the each of the two games after that offensive breakout.
White says he doesn’t want Egbunu worrying about how many shots he’s getting each game, and that the opposing team’s defensive strategy will dictate that from time to time.
That won’t be how his impact is defined for this team.
“John doesn’t need to worry about whether he gets 2 shots or 14 shots. We played at Tennessee last year and every time he touched the ball, they did an amazing job of just converging on him. Sometimes he had three, three-and-a-half guys around him,” White said. “John can’t go into games, we’ve had long discussions and many discussions about going into games with preconceived plans personally. John’s very unselfish. He wants to have as great of an individual season as possible to help this team.
“He wants to try to get 20 and 10 every night if possible, but it’s more about, for him to play with a free mind is going to help him have a good individual game, which is going to help us have a good team game. For him to just do his job. … It might be 14 shots one night and 2 another, which means he might need to get to the foul line a few more times and convert at the foul line and work on being the best defender he can possibly be.”