True road games have presented a problem for the Florida Gators this season. The first two resulted in losses, but to the teams currently ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in both polls. The third true road game? Another loss, this time to a Rutgers squad that previously had trouble scoring. While it was anticipated that the Gators would be able to outpace the Scarlet Knights, the expectation was never realized; Rutgers not only kept pace, but came roaring back each time Florida extended a lead.
With the 85-83 double-overtime loss, the No. 10 Gators fell to 10-3 with two games remaining before the start of the SEC schedule. Hoping to keep the momentum of a five-game win streak going, Florida was unable to take complete control when it did build numerous leads. While many factors contributed to the loss – turnovers, some "interesting" calls, Rutgers' inability to miss late, etc. – a past problem reared its ugly head. When games are tight, the Gators' shot selection becomes questionable at best.
Since winning back-to-back national championships, Florida teams have consistently looked to regain or increase leads with one big play. This has ranged from ill-timed attempts to run the court to three-point shots taken – and I can’t accurately measure the distance – roughly from the parking lot. When the flow of the game dictates the Gators slow things down and work through their play progression to find the smart shot, Florida tends to force things. It’s an issue Billy Donovan seems to have solved at times, but games like Thursday night show it has never truly disappeared.
Kenny Boynton kept the Gators in the game late and led Florida in field goals, three-pointers, free throws and points. However, his 26 weren’t enough to overcome the game Rutgers guard Eli Carter had. Carter had a previous season high of 21 points before scoring 31 against the Gators. He attempted 10 more shots than his previous high, and, coincidentally, made quite a few more as well. Florida couldn’t stop the freshman when it mattered, allowing him to score seven in the two overtime frames. Including overtime, 17 of Carter’s 31 came with less than 10 minutes remaining in the second half.
While he has proven to be one of the more valuable Gators early in his career, Bradley Beal is still a freshman and that youth was on display. His 15 points were good enough for second behind Boynton, but 1-of-6 shooting from behind the arc and seven turnovers gave us reason to believe he has plenty of room to grow. While his all-around game makes him the best player Florida has, he’s still learning the collegiate game and will have nights like this. Unfortunately, his "rough" performances have come in the three Gators’ losses, proving just how valuable he is: An off night for Beal can easily become a loss for Florida.
At times, the Gators showed just how lethal their offense can be. At others, they showed it may not be physical ability, but mental lapses that will hold this team back. 10-3 isn’t a record to disparage, but 0-3 on the road leads to concern. Is it a hostile crowd that prompts Florida to put up shots they otherwise shouldn’t? We don’t know, but it has become a pattern. The Gators had nearly a month between the trip to Syracuse and Thursday night’s game against Rutgers; it will only be nine days before Florida hits the road again this time against Tennessee.
Getting the SEC schedule kicked off on the right foot is monumentally more important than a road game in December, but every loss is considered when it comes to tournament selection.