Florida Gators Pick Up Fourth Commit for 2015

Wide receiver Tristan Payton became the fourth member of the Gators 2015 recruiting class on Monday. (gatorzone)

Wide receiver Tristan Payton became the fourth member of the Gators 2015 recruiting class on Monday. (gatorzone)

After a busy weekend hosting a number of juniors, the Gators picked up their fourth commitment for 2015 when Jacksonville, FL First Coast receiver Tristan Payton pulled the trigger this morning.

Payton, 6’2 190, visited UF over the weekend and was noticeably happy to be informed by head coach Will Muschamp that he had earned a scholarship offer. He had even changed his Twitter profile pic to one of him wearing a Gator jersey taken over the weekend which was a portent of his commitment this morning. I had even put him on commitment watch in my Junior Day wrapup story posted earlier today.

Payton is a big, strong receiver with good hands and great speed. Just like the other three early commits, his recruitment was just beginning to blow up when Florida offered. It was a dream come true for the admitted Gator fan growing up.

Payton is a versatile receiver who has the size and speed to play on the outside/inside at wideout or in the slot. He’s a playmaker when he gets the ball in space and has the skills to make people miss in the open field, the speed to outrun defenders, and the size to run over them. He’s a good fit for the spread offense that new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is installing for next season.

Payton is the fourth member of the Gators 2015 recruiting class and second receiver after Orlando, FL Lake Nona high receiver Deondre Farrier committed on Friday.

Stay tuned to Swamp Music for the latest FREE updates on Gator recruiting and athletics.

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Florida Gator Recruiting: Junior Day Wrap Up

Lake Nona high receiver Deondre Farrier became the second Gator commit for 2015. (Chris Hays Orlando Sentinel)

Lake Nona high receiver Deondre Farrier became the second Gator commit for 2015. (Chris Hays Orlando Sentinel)

The Florida Gators hosted another Junior Day this past weekend bringing in a lot of offensive targets and getting recruits some face to face time with the new offensive staff. By all accounts, it was a successful weekend with a couple of new commits, a few new offers, and a top target who received the full court press.

The weekend had barely started on Friday morning before head coach Will Muschamp received a phone call from Orlando, Fl Lake Nona high school receiver Deondre Farrier who had decided to go ahead and make the commitment to the Gators. Farrier is a high school teammate of recent Gator signee and fellow receiver Ryan Sousa. He’s built in a similar mold to Sousa and is a very hard nosed receiver who is a playmaker when he gets the ball out in space. He is solidly built with great hands and deceptive speed and he’s able to both fight through tackles as well as run away from defenders.

As a junior he caught 55 passes for 909 yards and 7 td’s. He’s a good pickup for the Gators as they look for speedy playmakers for new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to feature in the new spread offense.

Bishop Kenny offensive tackle Tyler Jordan became the Gators third commit for 2015. (Rivals)

Tyler Jordan became the Gators third commit for 2015. (Rivals)

On Saturday, the Gators picked up the second commitment of the weekend and third in the 2015 class when Jacksonville, Fl Bishop Kenny offensive tackle Tyler Jordan pulled the trigger for the Gators. Jordan, 6’4 270, is a prototypical line recruit for Will Muschamp- a big, strong player with long arms, a solid frame to add weight, and a nasty streak. He’s also a good student with solid character and a strong work ethic. He’s a guy who’s recruitment had just started to really blow up with a lot of top schools showing interest of late but after two trips to Gainesville in a week he felt like it was home and where he’d like to play his collegiate ball so he went ahead and ended his recruitment early. Despite being listed as an offensive tackle, the Gators are recruiting him as a center.

A couple of new offers went out this weekend as well from the Gators. First, Moore Haven, Fl running back Markeis Hallback received a Florida offer and also received a ton of attention from the staff showing up early on Friday. At 5’11 190, Hallback has a good combination of size and speed able to get the tough yards inside the tackles, bounce it outside and outrun linebackers, as well as break away once he gets to the next level. He’s another kid who’s recruitment is just now starting to blow up as more of the top schools take notice. He’s certainly one to keep an eye on moving forward.

Hallback seemed to be impressed with Florida on his trip apparently coming close to committing according to his Twitter account.

The about line on his Twitter simply says “Florida Gator”. Hmmm. He would have to be on commitment watch for the Gators.

Next, Jacksonville, Fl First Coast high receiver Tristan Payton also earned an offer this weekend. Payton, 6’2 190, is a big receiver with good speed who is raw at the position but has a high ceiling. He’s split time as a quarterback and receiver in high school but possesses natural abilities in the open field to make people miss and outrun defenders. He looks very good running the zone read as a qb and could very well be utilized in that role with the Gators in addition to playing wideout.

He looks like a very versatile player with the speed to play outside or inside, the toughness to play in the slot, and he can run the jet sweep as well. If his Twitter pic is any indication he’s high on the gators.

Top wide receiver prospect Preston Williams visited Florida for Junior Day this past weekend. (247sports)

Top wide receiver prospect Preston Williams visited Florida for Junior Day this past weekend. (247sports)

Out of all the recruits who visited this weekend, the highest ranked player was wide receiver Preston Williams. A Tennessee Vol commit, Williams is taking a few unofficial visits around the Southeast and the Gators were his first stop. He came away impressed with Gainsville and the Gators.

“It’s was great,” Williams said. “I had a lot of fun saw lots of things .. It was what I expected.”

Williams is the top rated wide receiver in the nation according to Scout.com and 247sports. He did mention that the Gators are squarely in the mix in his recruitment despite his Vol commitment. With offers from most of the major football programs, and him visiting Georgia and South Carolina soon, the Gators certainly have their work cut out for them to land this big fish. However, head coach Will Muschamp has earned the nickname “Flipper” for his penchant for flipping top recruits the last few seasons. If there is one recruit in the 2015 class he needs to flip, Williams would be the one.

Another top rated recruit on the Gators board left Gator fans wondering. On saturday shortly after Tyler Jordan became the Gators third commitment for 2015, defensive end CeCe Jefferson from St. Mary, FL tweeted this.

He has not, however, publicly committed but most analysts think it’s only a matter of time before he does commit to the Gators. Interestingly, the 247sports crystal ball has him 100% for the Gators.  Stay tuned.

Overall it was a very successful weekend for the Gators. Two commitments, a receiver and a lineman both of which are positions of need for the Gators, two new offers to a running back and wide receiver both of whom came away strongly leaning towards the Gators, and an impressive trip for a five star receiver. That all adds up to a strong recruiting weekend for Will Muschamp and company.

Florida Gators Host Five Star Wideout Preston Williams

Top wide receiver prospect Preston Williams visited Florida for Junior Day this past weekend. (247sports)

Top wide receiver prospect Preston Williams visited Florida for Junior Day this past weekend. (247sports)

The Florida Gators hosted another Junior Day this weekend this time loading up on offensive talent. With the Gators struggling offensively for the last four seasons, head coach Will Muschamp scrapped the pro style for a spread offense bringing in new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper from Duke. He’s expected to install his version of the spread the same offense which put Duke in the ACC championship game last season.

In a search for playmakers, the Gators hosted a ton of offensive recruits for the 2015 cycle on Saturday, none bigger than Lovejoy, GA five star wide receiver Preston Williams, 6’4 205.

A U.S. Army All American, Williams is the top wide receiver in the nation according to Scout.com and is at the top of the Gators wideout board as well. He’s a big, strong, physical receiver with speed to burn able to fight for the ball in traffic, go up over defenders to make the catch, or out run them to the end zone.

To say he’s an elite talent would be an understatement. He’s a solid route runner way above average for a recruit still in high school, has great size and leaping ability which allows him to make circus catches even with defenders draped over him, and he has the speed and athletic ability to run away from defenders, to run through tackles, and to leave defenders face down wondering what happened. A long striding speedster who reaches top speed quickly, he also has great balance which allows him to grab balls which aren’t necessarily on target as well as make playstation moves in the open field.

As a junior he caught 50 passes for 1235 yards an amazing 27.5 yards per catch with 16 td’s. He runs a 4.34 forty yard dash which is ridiculous for a player his size.

He’s also a heralded track and field guy finishing fifth in the long jump and fourth in the triple jump in the Georgia class 6A state track championships.

A Tennessee commit, he’s currently taking a look at a few other schools around the southeast and the Gators were the first stop on his tour. He did seem to enjoy his visit very much.

“It’s was great,” Williams said. “I had a lot of fun saw lots of things .. It was what I expected.”

https://twitter.com/ThResort/status/437011843861602305

While on the trip he got to speak with wide receiver’s coach Joker Phillips where they discussed the new offense and how he’d fit into it. He seemed to be impressed sensing that it’s a good fit for his skillset.

“That’s my best style of play,” Williams said.

Williams is also somewhat of a social media star with close to 17,000 Twitter followers. That’s a lot of followers but it shows he has an outgoing and engaging personality. It also shows he’s media savvy and a fan favorite.

While still committed to Tennessee, he’s expected to continue to take unofficial visits around the southeast. He mentioned that he has plans to visit both the home state Georgia Bulldogs and South Carolina in the next few weeks.

The Gators, however, are a team he’s seriously considering moving forward according to Williams. Gator fans have to be excited about that prospect. He very well could be the vertical threat the Gators have lacked since Riley Cooper and Andre Caldwell.

Considering the Gators struggles offensively the last few seasons, Williams may be the most important recruit on the their board for 2015 and the staff will continue to recruit him hard right up until the end.

Will Muschamp has earned the nickname “Coach Flipper” for his ability to flip top recruits the last few seasons, but if there was only one recruit in this class he could flip, Williams would certainly be the most important one. He has elite speed, hands, and athletic ability.

Here’s what Scout.com analyst Scott Kennedy wrote in his bio for the site.

“Williams is the total package at wide receiver. He has plus size and run away from a defense type of speed. He has good strength and balance, enabling him to break a tackle. Because of his size, he’s always open, because he can outleap and box out smaller defensive backs. He has terrific hands and elevates well in traffic to rip the ball out of the air. There’s not much he can’t do” – Scott Kennedy

Stay tuned to Swamp Music for the Junior Day weekend wrap up at 12:05 pm eastern.

He’s Baaack…. The Gators Travel to Oxford to Take on Henderson, Ole Miss

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
We’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer “Karn Evil 9”

Will Marshall Henderson be Gator chomping once again or will he and his Ole Miss team get chomped by the Gators? (ole miss 247 sports)

Will Marshall Henderson be Gator chomping once again or will he and his Ole Miss team get chomped by the Gators? (ole miss 247 sports)

The travelling circus act known as Marshall Henderson is back. Yes the guy last seen doing the Gator chomp shortly after the clock ran out on Ole Miss’ upset of the Florida Gators in last season’s SEC tournament championship game is back. And you couldn’t hardly tell it.

The Florida Gators travel to Oxford, MS on Saturday to take on Henderson and his Ole Miss Rebels squad. The bad boy of SEC basketball best known for draining three pointers and taunting opposing fans has been downright quiet and uneventful this season. So quiet I wondered aloud if he was still in college or had moved on due to graduation or yet another transfer. Much to my chagrin, I discovered that Henderson is still playing basketball for Ole Miss. He’s just been quiet, eerily quiet.

Of course, that may very well change on Saturday against the Gators. Don’t think for a moment the Gator players have forgotten the Gator chomp. Patric Young was asked on Friday if he saw Henderson running up and down the court doing Gator chomps after the final horn had sounded on the championship game upset.

“Well we have a video playing of him doing it over and over and over again in the locker room so how can I forget?” Young said.

I’d say they haven’t forgotten. They likely haven’t forgotten the stink of that loss either. The tourney’s number one seed they were expected to win going away but Marshall Henderson’s three point shooting helped lead them to the upset.

“It was really tough and that’s in the past,” Patric Young said of the loss. “Of course, losing the opportunity to cut more nets down, we’re going to have a little bit of a grudge in our hearts.”

A little bit of a grudge for the loss, but does it provided extra incentive going into Saturday’s game?

“We can’t let that be the motivating factor for us this year. We want to be great so that’s the key internal factor for us to want to play this game, so now the opportunity to strive for that. Going in we know what they’re capable of doing and we just have to come ready to play.”

Wait, what? Is that a player or a coach? Patric Young sure has taken on head coach Billy Donovan’s persona.

But what about Henderson and his Gator chomps and his mouth for that matter? Henderson runs his mouth like a mountain waterfall. Does that provide some extra motivation?

“He doesn’t really talk too much, it’s more like when he does something he just really wants everyone to know that he did something good. That’s more like what he does. Maybe he’ll talk a little bit in pregame warmups but other than that he’s a pretty decent guy.”

A pretty decent guy? Really? Did I wake up in bizarro world? Marshall Henderson is the John McEnroe of SEC basketball, the guy fans love to hate. A pretty decent guy? Come on Patric, help us out here. So is it hard to focus at all during the game with his antics and circus like showmanship?

“Not very hard at all, because we’re focused on ourselves and what goes on along the lines of our team. We’re staying on the path to become great. Getting unfocused by someone like that is not helping our team and everyone wants to do what it takes to help our team.”

Regardless of what Patric says you can bet the house the Gators will be fired up in this one. I’m sure the Gator fans in attendance will be as well. The Rebels will likely be too as they’re coming off an embarrassing fourteen point loss to Kentucky where the Cats dominated from start to finish and the final score was much closer than the actual game. With the Gators sitting at #2 in the nation and looking to move up to #1 and riding an 18 game win streak and undefeated conference record, they will continue to get every team’s best shot. Ole Miss is no different. The Gators saw last season what can happen against a motivated Rebel team. But after a near upset loss to Auburn at home on Wednesday night, it’s a certainty that Billy Donovan got the teams attention and will have them prepared for a battle against Ole Miss.

Regardless of the outcome, however, it will be nice to see what’s become of Marshall Henderson. While he might have toned down his carnival act, a mediocre record tends to do that, certainly his game is as sharp as ever. He put up 18 against Kentucky on an off night for him but he still drained five three pointers. He’s always a threat to score even from ridiculous territory as he showed against the Gators last season hitting one from downtown L.A. Billy Donovan knows all too well Henderson’s ability to go off but is concerned about more than just Henderson.

“They’ve played very, very well at home,” Donovan said. “Obviously, they’re coming off a loss against a really, really good Kentucky team. Certainly Henderson is a unique player in terms of his ability to shoot, and score, and his range, but I think they have other really, really good players.”

Really good players like guard Jarvis Summers who put up 22 against Kentucky or forward Anthony Perez who came off the bench to score 21 including 2-3 from three point range. Ole Miss is a team in love with the three point shot and that could be problematic for a Gators team which has been terribly inconsistent guarding the arc. From the highs of forcing Tennessee into 1-19 three point shooting night to the low of allowing Auburn to hit ten three pointers and almost pull the upset, the Gators have struggled to maintain consistency in their three point defense. They’ll need to be better against Ole Miss.

So on Saturday against Ole Miss the Gators seek to extend their school record for consecutive wins to 19 and remain unbeaten in the SEC. It’s another speed bump in the path to some lofty season goals including an undefeated conference season and a third SEC title in four season. No Gator team has ever accomplished either. This team is focused on history at this point.

“We’re just taking it one game at a time and Ole Miss is the next team in our path to become a champion, to hopefully become outright champion,” Young said. “There are so many goals that we want to accomplish this year and we’re just inching closer to it, we just can’t lose any speed towards that. We just need to keep grinding, stick to the process.”

Young added, “Yeah, I think we’d be the first class to ever do that, to win three outrights. And hopefully we can come away with that. It’d be nice to finish the SEC undefeated, it’d be nice to finish the rest of the year winning every game but we can just take it one game at a time and see how it goes from there.”

Ole Miss and Henderson would love nothing more to be the team to break the Gator’s hearts once again. Will Henderson be the one Gator chomping across the floor when the buzzer sounds on Saturday? Or will the Gators chomp Henderson and the Ole Miss Rebels?

Tune in to CBS at noon eastern to see.

Florida Gators Pick Up Second Commit for 2015

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Right off the bat on a big recruiting weekend for the Florida Gators, head coach Will Muschamp scored a commitment for 2015. The Gators are hosting another junior day top heavy with offensive recruits and didn’t waste any time accepting a commitment from wide receiver Deondre Farrier a high school teammate of 2014 Gator signee Ryan Sousa at Lake Nona high in Orlando, Florida. He is the second commit for 2015 for the Gators and likely not the last.

Farrier, 6’0 175, has good size, solid hands, and good speed. He’s a perfect fit for what new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper plans to do. He’s a playmaker when he gets the ball in space, has good moves, and can make people miss plus the speed to run away from defenders.

He’s a solid pickup for the Gators and is an important tool for them as they revamp their offense moving to a new spread style. He’s the first commitment of the weekend but stay tuned as their may very well be a few more before the weekend is over.

Florida Gator Recruiting: Friday Five 2/21

Dwayne Lawson from Tampa's Hillsborough High is receiving a ton of interest from the Florida Gators among others.

Dwayne Lawson from Tampa’s Hillsborough High is receiving a ton of interest from the Florida Gators among others.

It’s Friday. Time for the Friday Five. At this time of the year, the staff spends a lot of time evaluating potential recruits. Of course, the top guys they’ve identified and have been working hard on for a year or more. But now, they start to dig a little deeper. There’s always guys who may not have been on the radar as sophomores, but after big junior years they start to see their recruitment blow up. Today I’ll mention a couple of those.

Nobody has been hotter on the Gator recruiting trail the past week than Jacksonville, FL Bishop Kenny offensive tackle Tyler Jordan, 6’4 280. Jordan has seen his recruitment blowing up of late getting new offers almost daily. While he’s listed as an offensive tackle, the staff is recruiting him as a center a position which is currently short on depth with the graduation of three year starter Jonathan Harrison. They currently have only one true scholarship center on the roster in redshirt freshman Cam Dillard.

Jordan visited the school this past Monday reportedly meeting with the staff including offensive line coach Mike Summers, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, and head coach Will Muschamp. He’s also expected to make another trip back down this coming weekend. Jordan, from the same school as current Gators wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood is a solid student-athlete who fits the bill as the type of kid the Gator staff wants to recruit to Florida- a hard working, talented kid on the field and solid character off the field.

Jordan grew up as a Gator fan which is a big plus for Florida. He is continuing to gain offers by the minute, but I think this kid is Florida’s to lose at this point.

Tevon Coney (247 sports)

Tevon Coney (247 sports)

Palm Beach Gardens, FL linebacker Tevon Coney is another who’s recruitment has been blowing up of late. An unknown a year ago, a strong junior season has gotten him a lot of attention from a lot of top prrgrams including Miami, Ohio State, and Alabama in addition to Florida.

Coney, 6’2 215, is a strong kid who plays with good pad level. He fills the hole well and can shed blocks and he’s a good pass rusher from the middle linebacker position. He’s also equally skilled in pass coverage with good speed and quickness and a nose for the football. He’s got a solid frame to add another 20-25 pounds and reminds me a lot of Jon Bostic coming out of high school.

He’s another player who grew up liking the Gators calling their offer a dream offer and the consensus opinion is that he’ll likely make a commitment to the Gators sooner rather than later.

Miami, FL Killian safety Jaquan Johnson is another who the Gators are hot on the trail after. Of course, the hometown Hurricanes are as well. Johnson, 5’11 180 is considered an athlete but the Gators are most certainly recruiting him to play safety. The Gators are expected to try to take two safeties in the 2015 class and Johnson is one of the tops. 

Johnson has good size, strength, and speed with a solid frame to add another 20 pounds easily. He’s a hard hitter and is versatile enough to play up in run support or back in coverage as a safety or as a nickel or dime corner. This one is likely a Miami-Florida battle in the end. Most expect the Canes but he was very impressed with Florida when he visited for Junior Day.

Hampton, GA Lovejoy receiver Preston Williams is a big receiver with all the physical tools. At 6’5 200, Williams is a matchup nightmare with his great size, strength, and speed. He’s a true vertical threat who can run past defenders as well as outjump them for the football and has great hands. With his size, he has the physicality to catch footballs over the middle and in traffic and is very difficult to bring down in the open field. He has breakaway speed to get deep and can run away from defenders once he has the ball in his hands. Describe him in two words- Dynamic Playmaker.

Williams is currently committed to Tennessee but, of course, it’s still early. The Gators are definitely interested as are most schools across the SEC and the nation. He is expected to visit UF this weekend with a lot of other potential offensive recruits. With so much time between now and signing day 2015 expect him to get the full court press moving forward. If there’s a recruit for coach “Flipper” to flip, this would be the guy.

Tampa Hillsborough high quarterback Dwayne Lawson is a dual threat qb who holds a Florida offer. While the Gators really covet top qb Torrance Gibson, so does every other program in America. After bringing in two top rated qb’s in 2014 the likelihood they bring in the top guy in 2015 is low.  Lawson, however, is a lot more likely for the Gators.

Not that he’s a plan b. He’s a four star qb in his own right and has offers from Tennessee and Ohio State among others. He is very high on the Gators. He’s the cousin of former Gator receivers Andre and Reche Caldwell and admittedly loves the Gators. He also likes new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and thinks he’s a good fit for the spread system Roper will employ at Florida.

In two varsity seasons, he’s thrown for over 3,500 yards and has 34 touchdowns against 20 interceptions. Last season he rushed for over 1,000 yards with 9 td’s. Reportedly he expects to commit before the season so there’s a long ways to go with his recruitment, but it’s safe to say the Gators lead for his services.

Patric Young, Florida Gators Escape Auburn for Record 18th Consecutive Victory

Cue the Pat Benatar music.

Hit me with your best shot
Why don’t you hit me
With your best shot
Hit me with your best shot
Fire Away

Patric Young had a monster second half helping the Florida Gators to escape the Auburn Tigers for their 18th consecutive victory. (Getty images)

Patric Young had a monster second half helping the Florida Gators to escape the Auburn Tigers for their 18th consecutive victory. (Getty images)

The Auburn Tigers came into the O’Connell Center on Wednesday night with a 4-8 conference record and barely over .500 overall at 12-11 seeking to hit the Gators with their best shot. A young team with nothing to lose they fired away from start to finish and it was almost enough as they came within 40 seconds and a couple of bad plays of upsetting the #2 team in the country on the road.

Behind freshman Tahj Shamshid-Deen’s hot three point shooting (5-8) the Tigers outplayed the favored Gators all evening before a couple of bad plays and some opportunistic free throw shooting by the Gators doomed them down the stretch. The Gators escaped with a 71-66 victory and kept their hopes of an undefeated conference season alive. It was the middle game of a tough 5 game stretch and only home game during that span, the one many expected to be a cake walk. It was anything but for the Gators.

The game started well for the Tigers as they hit their first three point shot and went 5-9 from beyond the arc in the first half taking a quick lead which they maintained for most of the first half. They continued their hot shooting fending off a 12-0 Gator run to take a 38-30 halftime lead, the largest halftime deficit the Gators faced all season.

The Gators defense simply wasn’t up to standard in the first half and, of course, that probably had as much to do with how well the Tigers were playing as anything else. For his part, Donovan warned his team of complacency in the face of a hungry team which is better than it’s record might suggest.

 “Coming into the half, we were not there like I thought we needed to be,” head coach Billy Donovan said afterwards. “All the things you can imagine coming out of last week I hit these guys with in terms of being able to prepare, start over, the process of going into the next game. I felt like this game was going to be a battle. They’d won four out of their last six. I think they’re playing well, they’ve got two of the best scorers collectively in the country. They run really good stuff. They’ve been in basically every game.

Suddenly, the Gators were in a ballgame and whatever they talked about in the locker room at half time appeared to go in one ear and out the other as Shamshid-Deen hit his fifth three pointer of the game less than a minute into the second half forcing head coach Billy Donovan to call a quick timeout. He appeared to be highly upset with forward Casey Prather who had been guarding Shamshid-Deen and an adjustment was made. The timeout and adjustment was successful as Shamshid-Deen would not score again.

“Yeah I had enough of watching him (Shamshid-Deen) constantly shooting threes over him (Prather),” Billy Donovan said. “I told him, I said ‘I’m taking you off him’ and he wanted to guard him. I basically said ‘if he gets one more off you’re coming off him and, matter of fact, you’re going to come out of the game’. “

The Tigers continued to battle however, not backing down and running their offense effectively all evening. When they weren’t shooting threes over the top of the Gator defense, they were driving through the teeth of it. But it was their three point shooting that did the most damage. They finished 22-46 (47.8%) overall from the field and a sparkling 10-19 (52.6%) from beyond the arc. For sure it wasn’t one of the Gators best defensive efforts of the season.

“One of the things we had talked about with these guys was the three point line because you have two problems guarding them,” said Donovan. “The first thing is, we did a phenomenal job on Denson and Harrell of keeping them out of the lane. The bad part of that was when we did do that and they skipped it and moved it to the next guy we did not react quick enough to take away threes. So we did a much, much better job against those two guys than we did the first time but where they really hurt us was from the three point line.”

Donovan was very unhappy with the Gators effort as they were outplayed for most of the game by the inspired Tigers team who are much better than their 12-12 record would suggest. All the talk the past week about how well the Gator defense had played in tough road victories over Tennessee and Kentucky went out the window with the quickness of a Tiger three point shot.

“I think, first, I thought Auburn outplayed us,” Donovan admitted. “Saying it like it is. We did not do a very good job defensively. This is kind of some of the things I have talked about in the past, when we get all this praise for how good our defense is, and it’s really not something that just you’re always great defensively. And give Auburn credit because they really shot the ball extremely well. They were averaging about five made threes per game, they obviously made ten. And what makes it even that much more difficult is they only needed nineteen shots to do it.”

Donovan added, “Auburn came in here with great energy and fire. and our guys, there’s some uncharted territory here, where you got to be able to handle some of this stuff that’s been thrown at these guys.”

Despite the lack of a collective team focus, the Gators did battle back all night and there were some strong individual play particularly on the offensive end. Casey Prather finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, and 2 steals barely missing a double-double. DeVon Walker played well in extended minutes off the bench hitting a couple of big three point shots which helped keep the Gators in the game finishing with 6 points, 1 rebound, and 2 assists.

They also did a great job on the free throw line particularly down the stretch, an area that has been sketchy for the Gators this season, finishing 23-28 (82.1%). The work they’ve put in to correct their poor shooting earlier in the season has paid off.

“These guys have worked hard, we’ve spent time, we’ve gotten better there,” Donovan said. “But we’ve got to keep getting better.”

Patric Young grabs a rebound versus Auburn. (TampaBay. com)

Patric Young grabs a rebound versus Auburn. (TampaBay. com)

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin had another great game finishing with 15 points, 4 assists, with only one turnover. It was his first turnover in his last three games. The star of the game, however, was senior center Patric Young who came back from an almost non-existent first half with no points and only 1 rebound to take control of the game in the second half. He came out o halftime with grit and determination repeatedly making hustle plays including running the floor to block an Auburn transition lay up from behind. Young finished with a game high 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks.

For sure, it was a battle throughout as the Gators opened the second half on an 11-3 run to tie the score at 41 and the teams traded baskets  and the lead changed hands a number of times the last ten minutes. Still the Gators were on upset alert with a minute left to play and the Gators down by two after Scottie Wilbekin missed a jump shot and the Tigers rebounded. A strong defensive possession resulted in a missed Auburn jump shot and a strong Patric Young rebound. The Gators came down and Wilbekin found an open Michael Frazier, who finished with 9 points, at the top of the key where he drained his third three point shot of the game to take a one point lead at 66-65.

Then the Tigers fell apart. Auburn’s Chris Denson missed the second of his two free throw attempts following a Will Yeguete foul and then Ashaun Dixon-Tatum quickly and head scratchingly fouled Patric Young immediately. Young drained both of his free throws to take a two point lead at 68-66 and then once again Auburn made a bone headed play. Allen Payne threw the inbounds pass to Harrell who wasn’t ready for it and the ball skipped into the Gators bench for a turnover which forced Auburn to quickly foul Scottie Wilbekin who hit both free throws for a four point Gator lead. Another missed Tiger three pointer and Gator rebound led to another free throw for the final 71-66 score.

The Gators played hard particularly at the end and took advantage of the Auburn mistakes but certainly the Tigers helped the Gators out in extending their home court win streak to 30 games a school record.

“We got some help from Auburn coming down the stretch,” Donovan said. “The score’s tied, they miss a free throw, and I was getting ready to call a timeout as the ball crossed half court and Dixon-Tatum fouls Patric Young. So that’s not really anything to do with us. Then Patric makes two free throws, then they throw the ball out of bounds, and then Scottie makes two free throws. So Frazier made a really, really big shot which was big in the game, to get the game back. And then I thought the other thing that was good was we made free throws. And then what we did do, the last three or four minutes of the game, we held them scoreless. So those things were good.”

Auburn for sure gave the Gators their best shot but it just wasn’t quite enough there at the end.

“Yeah, I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Donovan said. “I think when you talk about that, one of the things that I talk to our guys alot about is being undefeated in the league, ranking, all that stuff, no question you’re going to get everybody’s best shot. But I like to look at it the other way, are we going to give our best shot? That’s all well and good and we can know that but are we going to give our best shot? I didn’t think today we did that. And I think that Auburn had a lot more bounce, they were more lively. They played fearlessly, they attacked, they were aggressive, they were confident. They knew where the ball was going, what they were doing. And they made plays when they needed to make plays.”

Despite the tougher than expected victory and the many defensive lapses, it is encouraging that the Gators continue to find ways to win despite how well they play or how well the opponent plays. In the past the Gators have struggled in close games down the stretch as evidenced by all three of their Elite Eight losses the last three seasons.

“The one thing I would say that I have tried to get through our guys heads, and we’ve had some times with these guys when they were younger, that they have a tendency in years past to say ‘oh my gosh, the game,what is happening?’ Donovan said. “I think that the thing I’ve tried to get across to our guys is even though we’re not playing great, and I thought Auburn played phenomenal, we’re still in the game, so anything that has happened in the past is over. The next most important thing is the next possession and what we’re doing. It wasn’t like we were down by ten or fifteen points. It was a one possession game pretty much from about the three or four minute mark on. So it was still close, just trying to keep our guys engaged in the game, I think they’ve done a better job of staying engaged like that.”

The victory was the Gators 18th consecutive and set a school record. Donovan said the team will celebrate the victory despite how disappointing their play was and then get back to work correcting mistakes and learning from this game.

“I believe every time you win you celebrate after a game. I think you always celebrate a win. I think you always do that. Our guys worked hard to prepare, it was a hard fought game. Auburn’s a good team, we knew that. I can’t on one end say Auburn’s a good team to our guys, it’s going to be a battle and a war, and then win the game and walk off the floor and say I’m disappointed. So we’re going to enjoy the win, but we’re going to have to come back tomorrow and certainly make some corrections and get better.”

Next up for the Gators is a noon eastern matchup against Marshall Henderson and the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford, Mississippi on Saturday. The game will be broadcast live on CBS.