Florida 77, North Florida 69: Gators fend off feisty Ospreys in season opener

Al Messerschmidt

Florida got a huge night from Casey Prather, but the depleted Gators showed plenty of weakness in their season opener.

Florida finally got one of those "close" wins many were whining about the 2012-13 Gators never quite being able to secure.

Speaking from the experience of being in the building for the Gators' 77-69 win over North Florida on Friday evening, "close" wins are overrated.

Casey Prather poured in a career-high 28 points, 15 coming in the game's first 15 minutes, and snagged eight rebounds. Michael Frazier II, still recovering from mononucleosis, added his own career-high 19 points and tied his career high with nine rebounds. And freshman Kasey Hill looked like Florida's future at point guard, putting up 15 points, dishing four assists, snagging two steals, and generally wowing with his superior athleticism.

But that's about where the unqualified positives for Florida end.

The other seven Gators who played were 3-for-20 from the field, and combined for 25 points, none scoring more than four. North Florida, thanks largely to Florida's porous three-point defense, outscored the Gators 49-40 over the last 22:21 of play. The Gators' three-point shooting was nearly nonexistent, with Frazier and Eli Carter each sinking treys, the only two of 10 to go down on the night. And Patric Young was a non-factor on offense and a surprising liability on defense, scoring two points and getting two rebounds, and contributing to Florida being outrebounded 37-35 and allowing the Ospreys to grab 13 offensive rebounds on 38 misses.

North Florida was also one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country in 2012-13, and hasn't changed much since then, but the Gators managed just eight offensive boards on their 30 misses.

There were other positives, like Florida's 32 free throw attempts — and the 27 makes, including the first 17 in a row. But a late miss by Young gave North Florida a chance to cut the Gators' lead to five points in the final minute, and Florida sinking its last six free throws was undone by horrific defense in the same final minute, which yielded two layups and a three.

And that "close" margin of victory — this was Florida's first win decided by single digits since a victory over Alabama in the 2012 SEC Tournament — really only represents a missed opportunity to blow out a mediocre team at home.

Florida will get better, especially with the return of players that give it better depth, and a chance to shuffle limited players like Jacob Kurtz — who battled gamely all night, frequently guarding the Ospreys' massive 6'11" center, Romelo Banks, but whose foot speed cost Florida frequently on defense — further back in Billy Donovan's rotation. And Prather's brilliant night, on which he seemed unstoppable on offense and relentless on the glass, will unfortunately get lost before long.

But it may feel like things get worse before getting better, especially with a daunting road date at Wisconsin looming on Tuesday.

Star-divide

Andy Hutchins is Alligator Army's managing editor. Follow Alligator Army on Twitter and Facebook.

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