GAINESVILLE, Fla. — La Salle coach Ashley Howard wanted to get a few younger players into the lineup Wednesday night against Florida, a very experienced team.
He was rewarded with a youthful performance: energetic but erratic. Full of miscues and turnovers, but one that gives the first-year coach hope for better things down the road.
The Explorers committed 19 turnovers and were prone to prolonged scoring droughts. The Gators, with all but two letter winners returning from an NCAA tournament team, exploited that and put away the Explorers at the start of the second half while rolling to an 82-69 victory at the O'Connell Center.
"We're still developing chemistry," Howard said. "I think our young big guys battled, and they deserved more of an opportunity than they were given the first two games."
Howard pointed to freshmen Jared Kimbrough (five points, eight rebounds) and Ed Croswell (five points, four rebounds).
At the same time, he regretted that guards Pookie Powell, David Beatty, and Isiah Deas haven't all played well at the same time. Powell led all scorers with 21 points, while Beatty had 13 and Deas 10. But the trio combined for 12 turnovers.
That's an issue for a team that lost B.J. Johnson and his 20.8-point average and is blending three transfers with four freshmen.
The Explorers had a 5-2 edge a little more than a minute into the game. But they came up empty on seven of the next eight trips down the court, and Florida led by eight when Marquette transfer Traci Carter hit a jumper to cut the deficit to six.
La Salle (0-3) could get no closer. Trailing by eight at the half, the Explorers had only a Carter three-pointer during its first nine trips down the court. By the time the Explorers had their second basket of the half — a Croswell layup in traffic — Florida (2-1) led by 23 and was on the way to clearing its bench.
La Salle shot better than 47 percent from the field and shot 8-for-24 on three-pointers. Those efforts didn't bolster any rallies, but the 19 turnovers were the biggest problem, leading to 30 Florida points.
"Turnovers killed us, man," Howard said. "Bad shots hurt us. I felt like we did a good job defending Florida in the halfcourt for a long time. Then you had the turnovers let them get out in transition for easy buckets."
So Howard was denied his first victory as head coach, with the next opportunity coming Saturday, when the Explorers host City 6 rival Drexel, Howard's alma mater.
But despite the outcome Wednesday, Howard saw signs that the Explorers are not giving in, no matter the score.
"We didn't quit. We played 40 minutes, up until the final buzzer," he said. "We had a tie ball with 0.1 seconds left."
For a few minutes early Wednesday night, a glimpse of the talent touted by La Salle head coach Ashley Howard surfaced at the O'Connell Center.
But too many times the challenge of blending three transfers into a team that lost a 20-point-a-game scorer roared to the forefront. That portended disaster against Florida, an opponent that returned all but two letter winners from an NCAA tournament team.
The Explorers jumped out to an early lead but that dissolved quickly as they experienced frequent prolonged droughts while the Gators dominated inside and feasted at the free-throw line. The Explorers lost their lead less than three minutes into the game, and Florida rolled on to an 82-69 victory.
La Salle (0-3) opened up with a 5-2 edge a little more than a minute in. But the Explorers came up empty on seven of their next eight trips down the court. Florida (2-1) opened up an eight-point lead until Traci Carter, a Marquette transfer, cut the lead to six on a jumper.
La Salle could not get closer than six the rest of the way.
As soon as the Explorers seemed poised to crack that barrier, they went cold. La Salle trailed by eight at the half but managed only a Carter three-pointer during its first nine trips down the court to start the second half. When La Salle got its second basket of the half — an Ed Croswell layup in traffic — Florida led by 23 and was on the way to clearing its bench.
That delays, at least until Saturday, Howard's first victory as a head coach. His team will try to deliver Saturday when it hosts City 6 rival Drexel, Howard's alma mater.
This defeat was a bit different than the first two. In the season opener against Temple, the Owls opened up their lead in the second half in the season opener on the way to an eight-point victory. Against Lafayette last Saturday, La Salle squandered an early 11-point lead but had a chance to win on its final possession before falling by one.
The problem Wednesday was in facing an experienced NCAA tournament team on its home court. It was a contrast, as many Florida players read what their teammates were doing. La Salle, which lost forward B.J. Johnson and his 20.8-point average from last season, was disjointed, with a missed dunk and a pair of air balls. It 19 turnovers included a pair of shot-clock violations.
The Explorers shot 11-for-18 from the free-throw line, but Florida controlled the paint and forced its way to the line 26 times and made 19.