First of all, Andrew Steele did not play as he was on crutches and wearing a boot. I did not even know he was injured, and I am still unaware of the nature of the injury or how long he will be out. If anybody has any information, please post it or let me know. I did not see the trainers looking at him during the Michigan game, so I assume it happened during practice.
Once again, we had a poor first half. Things started out good as our press forced a number of UNF turnovers and we were able to knock down some open outside shots to build a 16-8 lead. Unfortunately, we looked very lethargic and unmotivated the last 10 minutes of the first half. Eblen, Torrance, and Hillman all made some poor passes that resulted in turnovers. Justin Knox got into foul trouble once again. While we did a decent job of getting the ball into the post in the first half, Knox, Green, and Hines all missed a ridiculous number of close shots in the paint. With Andrew Steele out, we were forced to play Eblen a little more in the first half, and Greg Cage even got into the game. UNF was able to take advantage of our mistakes and a take a 1 point lead into the halftime. They had a 4 point lead until Tony Mitchell banked in a 3 at the buzzer.
Coach Grant was visibly upset with the lack of effort in the first half. He spent a lot of time speaking to the guys on the bench and seemed more vocal than usual. At one point I could hear him say, "Consistency every night...THAT is the difference." When the team came out of the tunnel to start the second half, Coach Grant did not look happy, and was shaking his head in disgust as he walked back to the bench.
The team responded in the second half. Tony Mitchell had a great all around performance. I had criticized him for shooting 3's earlier this season, but he went 3 for 3 tonight and scored 17 points. He also played good defense and pulled down several rebounds. Unfortunately, his night was cut short when he left the game at about the 9:30 mark with an injury. After going up for a shot near the basket he was under cut and landed hard. After remaining on the floor several minutes, he was helped to the locker room without putting any weight on his leg. He did come back out a few minutes later and appeared to be walking fine, but he did not re enter the game. Let's hope his injury is not serious, as we cannot afford to lose any more guys.
Frankly, I thought Mitchell's injury was the result of dirty play on the part of UNF. That was the 3rd or 4th time in a short span, in the midst of our run to put the game away, where they undercut us. I understand that will happen sometimes near the basket, especially when trying to get position for a rebound, but when it happens 3 or 4 times in a row, in particular when our players are already on their way back down, I have to question their intent.
Our game plan was to try to get the ball into the post, which makes sense considering the Osprey's are terribly undersized. However, they double and triple teamed Green, and got him frustrated by hacking away at him all night, and none of our other bigs could make a point blank shot. Thankfully our guards stepped up. I've already mentioned Mitchell's three point shots, but Charvez Davis and Anthony Brock also contributed from behind the arc. Torrance contributed with 15 points and was able to get to the line and knock down some free throws.
Overall, a good second half and a solid win against a team we were expected to beat. A number of factors could have contributed to the poor first half. It's dead week on campus and final exams are lurking in the near future. We had a short turnaround after a long road trip featuring 3 games in 4 days, which will take a toll on teams without a lot of depth. Finally, I think the initial 8 point lead came so easy, we relaxed thinking that merely going through the motions would be sufficient. Credit Coach Grant and the players for turning it back on and taking care of business.
The crowd was very small tonight, I would estimate around 2,000 or so and very quiet. It was a dead atmosphere, which was kind of disappointing considering the great showing we had in Orlando.
Up next, the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks will come to Tuscaloosa for a noon tipoff Saturday. They return all 5 starters and are coached by former Gottfried assistant Orlando Early. He's done a decent job with them, and they will be much tougher than UNF. Like many fans, I won't be able to make it to this game, as I will be on my way to Atlanta for the SEC Championship football game. Hopefully I will be able to listen to Chris Stewart on XM radio.