That was somewhat expected, because the Gators played without a true point guard for the first time in years.
But once Donovan simplified things at halftime, No. 16 Florida pulled away from Middle Tennessee and coasted to a 79-59 victory Thursday night.
Patric Young led the way with 16 points, one of six Florida players in double figures. Without point guards Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill, the Gators had nearly as many guys handling the ball.
“With a limited bench, no point guard and playing against a good team, I thought our defense was constant the whole entire game and I thought our offense was really good in the second half,” Donovan said. “We were really balanced. ... We did a lot of different things.”
The Gators won their 19th consecutive game at home, this one thanks to a dominant start to the second half.
Florida (4-1) came out of the locker room and outscored the Blue Raiders 18-6 over the first 5½ minutes. DeVon Walker got the run started with a 3-pointer, and then the Gators went inside.
Young had a dunk, and Jacob Kurtz and Dorian Finney-Smith followed with three-point plays. Leading scorer Casey Prather, who played just 4 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, made two free throws and added a three-point play. In between, he found Michael Frazier II on the break for a layup.
Florida used the spurt to turn a single-digit lead into a 20-point game — and the Gators mostly kept it that way the rest of the night.
Neiko Hunter led Middle Tennessee (4-1) with 14 points. Jaqawn Raymond (13) and Eric Wortham (11) also finished in double figures.
The biggest issue for the Blue Raiders was that key starters Tweety Knight, Shawn Jones and Kerry Hammonds combined for 15 points and eight turnovers.
“You’ve got to get your core guys to play when you’re playing a top team on the road,” Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said. “We just got nothing out of them. All three of those guys have been playing well for us, but when you get on the road here, those guys have to play.”
Finney-Smith scored 14 points for the Gators. Frazier (13), Prather (11), Will Yeguete (10) and Walker (10) also reached double figures.
The Gators won their 20th consecutive game against non-conference opponents. The latest one was notable because of the point guard situation.
“Not having a point guard definitely raised our sense of aggressiveness because we were like a wounded animal,” Frazier said. “We don’t have all our pieces, so we had to go in there and be aggressive and fight.”
Wilbekin sat out an exhibition game and the first five regular-season contests because of an indefinite suspension. Hill, a freshman averaging 10.3 points, could be out a month with a high ankle sprain. Hill badly twisted his left ankle in Tuesday’s win against Southern. He wore a protective boot on his foot and watched from the bench Thursday.
Donovan offered no update on how long Wilbekin will be out.
“He still has stuff he has to do,” Donovan said. “I’m proud of him, but I’m not prepared to make any statement that he’s coming back to our team.”
Without Wilbekin and Hill, Florida used Walker, Frazier, Prather, Finney-Smith and others to handle the ball.
It didn’t work very well early.
The Gators managed just two assists in the first 20 minutes, part of an ugly half that also included 32 free throws, 26 fouls and only 17 baskets.
“We were stagnant,” Donovan said. “It was painful to watch.”
The teams combined for five assists. Florida led 34-26 thanks to making 15 of 18 free throws.
It didn’t help Florida that Finney-Smith, Prather, Walker and Eli Carter picked up two fouls each — most of them early. The Gators played with Billy Donovan, the coach’s son, and fellow walk-on Kurtz down the stretch.
But things changed after the break. With more guys available, Florida made the most of its size advantage — and showed it didn’t need a true point guard. Of course, that could change with an upcoming stretch against Florida State, Connecticut, Kansas and Memphis.
“We’ve just got to get the ball past half and then get in our offense,” Finney-Smith said. “Once we get in our offense, everybody knows what we’re doing. Once we got comfortable, things went well.”