Laurence Bowers, Erik Murphy

Florida’s poor track record in close games is worrisome


With Missouri leading 61-60 and less than 20 seconds left on the clock, No. 5 Florida had the ball with a chance to pick up a win over the second-best team in the SEC on the road.

The question that rippled through twitter at that exact moment: “Who does Florida give the ball to here?”

And it’s a legitimate concern for the Gators. Who is their go-to guy? Who gets the ball for them in the clutch? Who can they trust to get a good shot in a big moment and make it? Because what they ended up with on Tuesday night was Kenny Boynton pulling up for three from about 23 feet with a good seven seconds left on the clock. He missed, and Missouri won, 63-60.

This came one possession after Boynton attempted another three with a minute left in the game and Florida again down one. He missed that, too.

The irony here?

The shot that Florida got — Rosario from deep in the corner — after Keion Bell’s free throws 3.1 seconds was better than either look Boynton had. That came after Florida went the length of the floor without having a timeout to draw up a play.

Now, frankly, I don’t have a huge issue with the Gators affinity for the three-ball. They took 54 shots tonight, and 33 of them were from beyond the arc. On the season, 41.3% of their shots have come from distance. It’s who they are. It’s who they’ve been. It got them to the Elite 8 last season, and this year’s team is built around their stout, versatile defense. I can deal with it.

The problem I have is with the way Florida executes down the stretch in close games.

Florida has played three close games this season. They’ve lost all three. Every other time they’ve stepped foot on the floor, it’s been a blowout — and with the exception of one fateful half at Arkansas, it’s been the Gators that have been doing the dominating.

But those three close games are the ones that stick out. Florida blew a six-point lead in the final minute at Arizona back in November. They blew a 13 point second half lead Tuesday night. I don’t mean to bring up bad memories, but the Gators also blew an 11 point lead in the final eight minutes against Louisville in last year’s NCAA tournament.

And unless you count home wins over Missouri (without Laurence Bowers), Ole Miss or Kentucky (in the game Nerlens Noel got injured) as quality wins, Florida hasn’t really beaten anyone relevant since November 29th, when they steamrolled Marquette at home.

There’s no questioning Florida’s ability to defend, and there’s no denying just how good they have played for the overwhelming majority of the season.

But for a defensive-minded team — especially one that relies as heavily as the Gators do on the three-ball — struggling to close out close games is a problem.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.