Trojans struggle with Florida’s pressure in loss

Created: 11/16/2013 6:35 PM

(AP) GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Whether it was a loose ball under the basket or bouncing high off the rim, it always seemed to wind up in the hands of Arkansas-Little Rock.

For one half, anyway.

No. 11 Florida cranked up the pressure, hustled after rebounds and loose balls and turned the second half into a rout.

Casey Prather scored 27 points, eight of them during a 17-4 run midway through the second half, and Dorian Finney-Smith made an impressive debut for the Gators during an 86-56 victory over the Trojans on Saturday.

The Trojans, despite nine turnovers and shooting only 38 percent from the field in the opening half, walked into the locker room at intermission with the crowd quiet and score tied at 27. That didn’t last long.

"We felt like coming out in the second half, we had to limit our turnovers," UALR coach Steve Shields said. "You can’t turn it over the way we turned it over in the second half. That and the rebound margin was the difference in the game."

The Gators (2-1) had a 25-12 edge in rebounding in the second half. The Trojans (0-2) wound up with 18 turnovers.

The end of that 17-4 run summed up the second half. Kasey Hill picked off an inbounds pass from DeVonte Smith and converted it into a layup, and DeVon Walker stole the next inbounds pass and fed Prather for a dunk.

"We got beat to the loose balls. We got beat on the glass," Shields said. "We didn’t handle their pressure the way we needed to, especially in the second half."

And they had no answer for Finney-Smith.

The 6-foot-8 transfer from Virginia Tech wasn’t even sure he could play. He served his two-game suspension for breaking team rules, but a virus was expected to keep him out against the Trojans. He made his debut, and it was an impressive one.

Finney-Smith was a threat outside with 3-pointers and always around the basket for loose balls. He scored 17 points in 16 minutes.

"I really didn’t know what to expect," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "He hadn’t picked up a ball since Monday. He really moved the basketball and made the extra pass. Because he can shoot it, put it on the floor and pass, he opens up a lot of things for our guys."

Donovan was tired of watching a game with an excitement level that ranked right up there with paint drying. His Gators were moving the ball slowly, looking for openings in the post that weren’t there. The Trojans were walking the ball up the court.

He switched up some assignments and went to the press, and it paid off in a big way. UALR couldn’t match the pace and had key turnovers that enabled Florida to outscore the Trojans 59-29 in the second half.

Will Neighbour was a lone bright spot for the Trojans with 21 points and eight rebounds. James White had 16 points and nine boards.

Florida was a better team with Finney-Smith on the floor. He sat out the opening two games for breaking team rules, and he wasn’t expected to play Saturday because of the illness. Florida cleared him, and he lived up to the expectations for at least one game.

"I told him, `Coach, I can go, let me go.’ I just want to play," Finney-Smith said. "He knew I was feeling bad. He was trying to hold me. He was thinking about it. I was just ready to go. ... I was trying to keep my motor going."

Finney-Smith also had nine rebounds while showing off his well-rounded game, though several of those came from missing short shots inside and grabbing the miss. He also was 3 for 4 from 3-point range.

Patric Young added 10 points and eight rebounds for Florida, which was coming off a loss to No. 20 Wisconsin on Wednesday.

Florida wound up shooting 52 percent, an amazing turnaround from the first half.

Despite having seven steals and numerous chances on transition, Florida’s only points from outside came on a Finney-Smith 3-pointer. That gave the Gators a 20-14 lead, but right when they looked as if they were ready to pull away, Neighbour kept the Trojans right there.

Florida looked like a different team in the second half.

"We were very aggressive," Prather said. "Coach Donovan told us to give it all out, lay it on the line and just be as aggressive as we can. We just made it a point to come out here in the second half and get more rebounds."