White

Coach Mike White

The charity stripe has been an oasis for Florida.

It’s where the Gators take their free throws after being fouled by an opposing team down a mere two or three points at the very end of the game. It’s where they can breathe a sigh of relief and know that they’ve survived a comeback surge in the final seconds once again.

Towson. St. Joseph’s. Xavier. Marshall.

Escaping arenas with a win in the vein of Indiana Jones narrowly outrunning a rolling boulder has been the modus operandi of UF for almost its entire season (save Miami and North Florida). When the Thundering Herd came to Gainesville last Friday, the Gators once again finished the game at the free throw line, surviving Marshall 73-67.

Florida shot 9 for 30 from the field in the first half of the game. It shot from beyond the arc 10 times, and it missed all of them.

The slow starts are nothing new.

Against Towson, it shot just 37.5 percent from the field in the first half. During that Towson game, UF also shot 16.7 percent from three.

But even when Florida plays well in the first half, it can let its lead slip. The Xavier game on Nov. 24 is the best example.

Florida shot an excellent 64 percent from the field in the first half of that game, and the Gators hit 42.9 percent of their three-point attempts. They led Xavier by 10 points at the half, but the Gators let it falter in the second.

Xavier outscored UF 36-31 in the second half of that game as it inched closer and closer to Florida. St. Joseph’s, too, had a 37-29 advantage in the second half of the game it dropped to the Gators.

It all comes down to defense.

Every team that UF has staved off a comeback against has improved its production in the ensuing half. St. Joseph’s field goal percentage shot up from 26.3 in the first half to 46.4 in the second. Xavier jumped from 42.9 to 46.2, and last Friday, Marshall improved its percentage from 38.7 to 41.9. While Towson’s overall field goal percentage didn’t go up, its three-point percentage did (28.6 to 33.3).

Simply put, UF lets up when it has a lead, and its close win over Marshall wasn’t the only time it has done so. If the Gators plan on winning more games, they’ll have to come out strong in the first half and finish the game without allowing teams to breathe as they have been in the past few weeks.

The charity stripe in the final seconds has been UF’s oasis, but if it isn’t careful, the Gators could find it running dry far quicker than they’d like it to.

Follow River Wells on Twitter @riverhwells. Contact him at [email protected]

River Wells is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida women’s tennis team. He has previously covered UF swimming and diving. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.