Florida’s men’s basketball team huddled around Scottie Lewis at the free throw line. With less than twenty seconds remaining and a four-point lead, the freshman had the opportunity to ice a close win over Towson. Just a moment before, Lewis had forced a Tigers missed three on a tight close out and hustled to grab the loose ball off the rebound.
He sunk both from the charity stripe, propelling Florida over Towson in a 66-60 win where the freshman had a career day, notching a game-high 15 points in his first career start.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s Towson match and the first three games of Florida's 2019 season.
Three point shooting woes early
Coach Mike White’s squad has been nothing less than atrocious from beyond the arc. Florida has managed to shoot 24 percent from three in its first three games this season. Entering Thursday, the Gators sat at 347th in the NCAA in field goal percentage from beyond the arc - a mark that sits just three spots away from dead-last in the country.
The Gators converted just four threes against Florida State on Sunday and followed that with a season-high of seven against Towson. The Gators found some rhythm in the second half against the Tigers, converting five three pointers,0 which almost matched its season total of eight entering Thursday.
The cause of Florida’s struggles from beyond the arc is obscure. A lot of Florida’s misses have come from failing to create early in the possession, forcing players to take “hero shots” on a dwindling shot clock. But a lot aren’t. Many of these misses are just open threes the Gators have failed to convert.
Noah Locke has especially struggled to find his stroke, shooting 25 percent from the field this season and converting just three treys on 19 attempts. The sophomore’s cold streak was enough to push Scottie Lewis into the starting lineup against Towson, giving the freshman his first collegiate start...
Keep Scottie Lewis in the starting lineup
Scottie Lewis wasn’t sat down before Thursday’s game against Towson and told it was his moment. He didn’t even find out he was starting from Mike White directly. He just walked into Florida’s film room and saw his name etched on a white board along with four others.
White had given him the nod to start against the Tigers, and he impressed with his best showing of the season. Lewis racked up a team-high 15 points on 5-8 shooting, adding on a pair of threes which ignited Florida’s early second-half run. Replacing the struggling Locke, Lewis fit right in place offensively among the starting five.
His tenacious defense rolled over from his performance against FSU, where he was the first Florida freshman since Kevarrius Hayes to total three blocks in a single game. Lewis’s defense-first approach is a comforting sign for a team that’s been built on defense.
“Like Coach White says, our ceiling for our offense is tremendous,” Scottie Lewis said after the game. “We’re more focused on our defense, and our offense is going to come.”
The freshman should be a mainstay in White’s lineup from here on out. Lewis has the makeup of a catalyst for a squad like Florida, being its ignition on offense and its motor on defense. He proved that against Towson and will continue to impress in whatever role White lays out for him.
Feed Blackshear Jr. inside
White said it best after the loss to FSU.
“[Blackshear Jr.] needs more touches,” White said. “He should have the ball a lot more, and that’s on me.”
Kerry Blackshear Jr. has to be getting the ball more. The 6-foot-10 grad-transfer can’t be Florida’s leading scorer while contributing more free throws than made baskets to the Gators’ offense, which has been the case so far this season.
Blackshear Jr. registered a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds Sunday against Florida State without converting a single field goal. He was just the 11th player in 19 years to achieve that statistical oddity in NCAA history, and the first to achieve the feat in the SEC. Blackshear Jr. only took five shots that game, a total he almost doubled in the first half alone against Towson.
He finished with 13 points on 4-14 shooting and 13 rebounds for his third double-double in as many games. When it mattered most against Towson, White elected to go to his senior with the game tied and a minute remaining. Blackshear Jr. pivoted into the paint and converted a hook shot with three defenders around him, giving the Gators a two-point lead.
“Coach had asked me if I feel comfortable getting it on the block,” Blackshear Jr. said. “My teammates found me, [I] took my time, they didn’t bring a double and I was able to get a quick score.”
That score is just a small sample of what Florida needs to continue doing offensively, especially when the outside shot is struggling. Blackshear Jr. provides an inside presence that Florida hasn’t had in years, and White needs to take advantage of that by going to his senior more.
Nembhard needs to take more command
Florida’s sophomore floor general hasn’t had an ideal start to the season offensively. Totaling just eight points and seven assists entering Thursday’s battle with Towson, the incumbent point guard needed to take control of the offense more.
He answered with his best game of the season, scoring 11 points with a team-high nine assists. It seems like good things happen early in possessions when Nembard has the ball.
He finds a cutting Keyontae Johnson for alley-oops. He hesitates and converts cross-court passes to open players like Tre Mann and Noah Locke. And he makes defenders miss on spin-moves on his way to the basket for two.
This dormant offense needs a kick-start and that answer is Nembhard. He’s the one that can push the ball down the floor and get Florida into possessions quicker. The sophomore guard just needs to take it upon himself to make that happen, so the Gators offense doesn’t continue falling asleep.
Temper expectations overall
White has a difficult mountain to climb early this season, and it really isn’t his fault.
With expectations in the clouds after Florida was slated as AP’s preseason No. 6 team, the Gators were overhyped. It’s that simple.
Now, Florida has to manage these expectations as to not lose the fanbase early, as White so infamously has done in the past. This team is capable of making a deep run in March, it just needs to find its footing.
At times, the team looks lost on offense. Multiple players standing around as one player dribbles out the shot clock until they’re forced to throw up a contested three. That stems from players being uncertain, and that’s OK.
Florida has six freshmen and three sophomores. These issues were expected because of the inexperience from this team, but the ranking blinded fans from reality. This talented Gators squad will come around eventually, it’ll just take patience from both the players and the fans to see some growth on the court.