With four starters from a team that ran the table in the SEC and reached the Final Four having moved on to the professional ranks, Florida head coach Billy Donovan has some significant holes to fill in his rotation. Thursday evening the Gators played their lone exhibition game of the season, and while they didn’t play as well as they would’ve liked in the 79-70 win over Barry University, one of their returnees took an important step forward.
Eli Carter, who played in all of seven games before having to redshirt in order to fully recover from an injury suffered during his time at Rutgers, scored a game-high 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting (5-for-9 3PT). On a night that saw the Gators attempt 37 three-pointers, making 12, Carter and forward Dorian Finney-Smith (3-for-5 3PT) were their best perimeter shooters (Michael Frazier shot 3-for-12 from deep). With Frazier and Finney-Smith being part of last year’s rotation, their clearly going to be key players along with point guard Kasey Hill (eight assists, four turnovers vs. Barry).
But Florida will need scoring from other sources if they’re to make a run at defending their SEC title. And whlle the level of competition should be noted, Carter’s performance Thursday night is a positive to be taken from the exhibition. Carter, who suffered a fractured leg in a Rutgers loss at DePaul in February 2013, hadn’t been cleared to make a full return to practice (meaning he could take part in all drills) until October 21.
Even with the tumultuous nature of the Rutgers basketball program during his two seasons as a member of the program Carter was productive offensively, averaging 13.8 points per game as a freshman and 14.9 ppg as a sophomore. The key now is to see Carter build on this outing, with Florida beginning its regular season against William & Mary next Friday night.
Also of note in Florida’s exhibition victory was the fact that while Finney-Smith (16 points) and graduate transfer Jon Horford grabbed ten rebounds apiece no other Gator corralled more than four, and Barry rebounded 33.3% of its missed shots. Chris Walker will help on the glass when he returns from his suspension, and Alex Murphy will add even more depth in the front court when he becomes eligible at the end of the semester.
Yet even with that being the case, the rebounding and Florida’s shooting (41.7% FG) will be areas in which they’ll look to improve ahead of their season opener.