By Dory LeBlanc
The No. 10 Florida Gators narrowly defeated the North Florida Ospreys 77-69 in the season opener Friday afternoon at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville.
From tip-off, the Gators looked like the tenth ranked team in the nation, despite being without standout guard Scottie Wilbekin who was suspended indefnitely in June, quickly jumping to a 20-6 lead with 11:54 to go in the first half. Three minutes later, Florida had made all 15 free throws and had extended their lead to 25-10.
However, as time was closing in on halftime, the Ospreys went on an 11-0 run and after 20 minutes of play narrowed the gap to 37-31 at the half.
The Gators, under longtime coach Billy Donovan, regained their composure at the break and dominated North Florida early in the second half, leading as much as 58-39 due largely in part to continued success at the FT line.
Florida struggled shooting from the outside in the first half, but briefly found rhythm in the second, with Eli Carter and Michael Frazier hitting three-pointers back-to-back. Unfortunately, those would be the only shots made from behind the arc.
The Gators also had trouble defending the perimeter allowing the Ospreys to shoot from 3-point range and found themselves unable to close out halfs as North Florida went on another run, this time outshooting Florida 10-2 to come within 10 (70-60) with 2:16 to go.
With less than 30 seconds remaining, the Ospreys trailed 64-72, but continued to send the Gators to the charity stripe, allowing Florida to keep their lead. In total, UF made 27-of-31 free throws, a key component of their victory.
Donovan's Gators ended the contest with three players reaching double-digits in scoring: Casey Prather, Kasey Hill, and Frazier.
Prather, who played off the bench last year, led the team with a career-high 28 points, while senior center Patric Young, who was voted to the pre-season All-SEC first team earlier Friday, struggled offensively in the opener, scoring only two points. Frazier, who came off the bench, scored 19 points and made all six free throws, while grabbing eight rebounds and a steal.
Wil Yeguete also had meager offerings on offense, but more than made up for it on defense, recording four steals and four rebounds.
Next up, he Gators travel to Madison to take on the No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers on Tuesday, November 12.