University of Florida

In Madison Square Garden, Gators hoops looking for signature win against Duke

The No. 21 Florida Gators men’s basketball team is still looking for its first signature win in coach Mike White’s two-year tenure. A chance to upset No. 5 Duke in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday could be just the game.
The No. 21 Florida Gators men’s basketball team is still looking for its first signature win in coach Mike White’s two-year tenure. A chance to upset No. 5 Duke in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday could be just the game. AP

Somewhere in the midst of the Florida men’s basketball team’s first eight games of the season, forward Devin Robinson approached the team in the locker room.

With UF’s first 11 games of the season being played on the road, the junior wanted to make sure his teammates had the right focus heading into their next stretch of games away from home.

“It’s another game. It’s another day. It’s another gym,” Robinson told the team.

But when the next gym is Madison Square Garden and the opponent is No. 5 Duke, can the Gators really look at it as just another game on another day?

UF coach Mike White and his Florida team will find out Tuesday, when his No. 21-ranked Gators face the perennial powerhouse Blue Devils at 9 p.m. in Madison Square Gardens as part of the Jimmy V Classic.

Florida (7-1), which re-entered the AP top-25 poll last week for the first time in nearly two years, is still looking for its tried-and-true signature win since White took over the program.

A chance to upset Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA men’s basketball history, would more than qualify.

“It’s a great honor for any of us to compete against Duke basketball and Coach K and be on the same floor with Coach K,” said White, whose father Kevin White has been Duke’s athletic director since 2008. “That’s goes for our entire staff and our managers, but most importantly for our players. … To arguably compete against the best program in the country, arguably the best coach in all of sport, it’s a really unique opportunity that all of us are excited about.”

The Blue Devils (8-1) have four players who played in at least eight games this year and are averaging 10 points per contest, with sophomore guard Luke Kennard (19.4 points/game) and All-American Grayson Allen (17.1 points/game) leading the way.

A fifth, top freshman recruit Jayson Tatum, made his collegiate debut last week and scored 10 points against Maine.

“My goodness,” White said. “They play so hard, they’re so unselfish. They’re so many challenges ahead with facing a program like Duke that if you’re thinking about the wrong things you give yourselves zero chance at success.”

The Gators have had success this year. They’ve won seven of their first eight games for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Their lone loss was a 77-72 defeat to then-No. 11 and current-No. 8 Gonzaga in the Advocare Invitational semifinal.

“Just coming out every game with the same mindset, whether it’s Duke or a team that’s not ranked in the top-10 in the country, we just have to attack every day like it’s our last day on the court,” guard Canyon Barry said.

UF did that Thursday during its 91-60 rout of North Florida. The Gators shot a season-high 58.5 percent from the field and had seven players score at least seven points.

But even at that, White said the priority on Tuesday needs to be on defending a Blue Devils team are averaging 85.7 points per game and making almost 40 percent of its shots from the field.

Plus, above all else, the game is a chance for Florida to show that it can compete with the best in the country.

“Being 100 percent honest, we both know that it’s a bigger game,” Barry said. “It’s Madison Square Garden, it’s Duke. But I think that just adds to the atmosphere and fun of college basketball.”

Even though, at the end of the day, it’s just another game on another day in another gym.

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