In his first game back from a three-game suspension, Scottie Wilbekin was an integral part of a key Gators run.
With 12:32 remaining in the second half, the junior point guard studied his options at the top of the key and then dished the ball to redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario. As Wilbekin beat a Middle Tennessee defender on a backdoor cut, Rosario lobbed him the ball for an easy lay-in.
The score capped off a 10-0 run, increasing Florida’s lead to 42-28 and helping it distance itself from Middle Tennessee in a 66-45 win on Sunday. After the Blue Raiders called timeout, Wilbekin’s teammates embraced him.
“[Wilbekin] gave us a little boost,” junior forward Will Yeguete said. “We really missed him, and I’m glad he’s back now.”
In 23 minutes off the bench, Wilbekin finished with eight points on 3-of-6 shooting. The effort was only three points shy of his career best, which came Nov. 18, 2010, against North Carolina A&T in Wilbekin’s third career game.
He also tallied three assists, two steals and two turnovers against Middle Tennessee.
“This was a game that was maybe up his alley a little bit, because I think Scottie is a tough, physical, hard-nosed kid,” coach Billy Donovan said. “That’s the way Middle Tennessee State plays. (It was) just a game where Scottie was able to do some good things for us in the minutes he played.”
Wilbekin struggled to find any rhythm in the first period but bounced back with a six-point, turnover-free second half.
Donovan suspended Wilbekin for undisclosed reasons on Nov. 8, one day before Florida’s season opener against Georgetown aboard the USS Bataan in Jacksonville. Wilbekin rejoined the team on Friday after missing victories against Alabama State and Wisconsin.
“I’m not too much of a prideful guy, but it was really humbling seeing the team do great, because it proves I’m not bigger than the team and no player is bigger than the team,” Wilbekin said.
Before the season, Wilbekin was slated to start at point guard. Since Wilbekin’s suspension, senior Kenny Boynton, a natural shooting guard, has occupied the position.
Donovan said Wilbekin would have to earn the starting role. He will come off the bench again when No. 7 Florida (3-0) hosts Savannah State (3-2) tonight at 7 in the O’Connell Center.
“I’m not thinking too much about that — starter or come off the bench,” Wilbekin said. “I’m still going to play, and I’m still going to work hard. It is what it is.”