After 10 away games in seven venues, the University of Florida men’s basketball team has one more stop on its six-week tour before finally getting a chance to play inside the newly renovated Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
The Gators (7-3) close out their 11-game road stretch against Charlotte (6-3) at 4 p.m. Saturday at the BB&T Center in Sunrise as part of the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic. No. 23 Florida State (10-1) opens the two-game event against Manhattan (3-7) at 1:30 p.m.
“I think not only have my guys dealt with it well, I think they’ve grown from it,” second-year UF coach Mike White said. “I think they’ve used it to their advantage to help with maturity and consistency and togetherness, overcoming adversity, some mental toughness, most of all just maturity.”
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And during that stretch, White has seen his team stay competitive against some of the top teams college basketball has to offer.
No. 5 Duke. No. 8 Gonzaga. Florida State. UF had a chance to win against all three of them.
And then the second half happened.
Florida’s defense broke down in the final 20 minutes of each of those three losses, giving up an average of 45 points while allowing its opponents to convert 58.8 percent of their shots from the field in the second half.
While White said he attributes the late struggles to going up against top-caliber opponents, he still plans to emphasize defensive consistency as the season progresses.
“Our message is going to continue to be to these guys, especially on the defensive end, you’re right or you’re wrong,” he said. “You’re in the right place or you’re not. You’re communicating or you’re not. You’re playing hard or you’re not. It’s simple. Simplify it. Stay in the moment. Do your job.”
The Gators will look to do that against Charlotte, a Conference-USA team that is led offensively by a trio of guards in Jon Davis, Braxton Ogbueze and Andrien White. The three are averaging 55.5 of the 49ers’ 80.5 points per game and are shooting a collective 42 percent from the field (40.6 percent from three-point range).
“At the end of the day, we just got to try to get better every game we play,” UF guard Canyon Barry said. “We got a good test [Saturday], hopefully get a win there — and definitely excited to get back to the O’Dome soon.”
As for Florida State, the Seminoles are riding a six-game winning streak going into their matchup against Manhattan, which has lost four of its past five and is 1-5 away from home this season.
The Seminoles are led offensively by sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon, who is averaging 17.3 points per game. FSU is outscoring opponents by more than 20 points per game.
“I like the energy and camaraderie,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I like the conversations they were having with themselves and coaching themselves and holding each other accountable. … The good thing about our team is that we have so much room for improvement because we are so young. We are dependent a lot on five first-year players, so we still have a lot to grow. I am encouraged that the potential is still there to keep getting better.”