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Gators learn lesson about effort in exhibition win

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

It’s easy for a Division I team to not take exhibition games as seriously as it should.

Florida found itself in that situation Wednesday night. Up against Eckerd, a Division II team that was one of the best in the Sunshine State Conference a year ago, the Gators failed to match the effort of the Tritons and trailed 34-33 at halftime.

As is usually the case, though, the bigger school found a way to shake off the sluggish start. Florida dominated the second half to secure a 91-63 victory.

Florida won, but the Gators proved they still have a great deal of work to do if they are going to live up to their expectations this season.

“We finally matched (Eckerd’s) intensity and energy level, and there’s no excuse for that, regardless of who you’re playing,” Florida head coach Mike White said. “This was about us getting better, and our guys understand that. They know we were much better and played harder in the second.”

The second half was indeed a different story, and while the Gators weren’t as sharp from start to finish in this exhibition game, there were plenty of signs of promise, with several players using this stage to showcase their talents.

John Egbunu was one of six players to score in double figures for the Gators, finishing with 18 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He connected on 8 of 10 attempts from the floor, and if he can turn in that type of performance on a consistent basis this season, the Gators will be in good shape.

Devin Robinson stepped up as well — he didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the offseason foot surgery he had. Robinson scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds while KeVaughn Allen finished with 13 points and six steals.

Chris Chiozza showed the depth the Gators have as he filled in nicely for the injured Kasey Hill. He came through with 11 points, five rebounds and four steals.

As good of a sign as it was for the Gators to succeed on offense, it was just as important that the players came away from this game knowing their effort for 40 minutes must be better.

“We came out and underestimated them, I think. We didn’t have the intensity we needed,” Robinson said. “As the game went on, we got the jitters out and had a lot of newcomers playing. This is a big scene now. I feel after we got those out, we got comfortable and got on a roll.”

Defense played the biggest part in their success. Florida used its tenacious press to force 24 turnovers, which the Gators converted into 31 points.

“As much as possible, we want to get out in the open floor and we can feed off turnovers and pressure and get some easy ones,” White said. “As of right now, that’s when we’re at our best.”

The Gators aren’t at their best yet but they still have time to get there. They came away from this game knowing effort means everything, especially for regular season contests when Florida is favored and the outcome could make or break UF’s hopes of getting to the NCAA Tournament.

Florida has the talent to produce a successful season. If it can get its effort to match its talent night in and night out, the Gators will be just fine in the long run.

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