When Jonathan Arnholz and Lucas Dolengowski wrote about Florida's 2015-16 team creating chaos after the Gators' exhibition opener last week, they were right on — and the Gators continued in that vein on Friday night in Mike White's first career win as Florida's head coach, a 59-41 win at Navy.
Florida opened with a flourish: A KeVaughn Allen layup dropped for the first two points of White's tenure at Florida with just three seconds off the clock in the first half thanks to aggressive play off the tip. But it was a struggle for the Gators for the next eight minutes, as Devin Robinson didn't score the third and fourth points of the night for Florida until 12:41 remained in the first half. Robinson would lead an 11-2 run that gave Florida back the lead for good, but that drought recalled the 2014-15 season.
Fortunately, so did Florida's defense. The Gators smothered Navy after allowing the Midshipmen to go 4-for-8 from the field to begin the game; after that relatively hot stretch, Navy went 13-for-51 on the night, and that total was buoyed by a final 3-for-6 spate to finish the game.
Between Florida falling into a 9-2 hole and establishing a 53-33 lead that would be its largest of the night, the Middies made just 10 of 45 shots. That's fantastic field goal defense — and it doesn't account for the 13 turnovers by Navy, which fueled much of Florida's offense.
That offense, though, bogged down in the half court, as it did for most of last season. Robinson had 13 points and 10 rebounds, his first double-double as a Gator, but he also made one of his five threes, and committed a pair of turnovers, which seems low given his careless passing on the night. Dorian Finney-Smith had five turnovers of Florida's 19 on a forgettable four-point, 12-rebound night, and no Gator joined Robinson in double figures in scoring, with Allen (nine points) and Kasey Hill (eight points, four assists) coming closest. John Egbunu throwing down one monstrous dunk got him significant praise from color commentator Tom McCarthy, but those provided all four of his points. Chris Chiozza chipped in seven points from the bench, while Schuyler Rimmer had six, and joined Egbunu as the only other Gator to make more than half of his shots.
This was a win based on defensive strangulation, not offensive execution, and it was over the team picked to finish last in the unremarkable Patriot League. Florida will almost certainly have to play better to beat some of the better teams on its schedule.
And the Gators might. But on this night, they appeared to be more like the same team that struggled last season than not, despite White's debut.