Florida center John Egbunu's status for the SEC Tournament is in doubt after he tore a thumb ligament during Tuesday's practice. The Gators face Arkansas in their tournament opener Thursday afternoon (photo by THOMAS RICKS/Special to the Reporter).

Florida C Egbunu tears thumb ligament before SEC Tournament

Egbunu suffered injury during practice Tuesday.

 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida could be without center John Egbunu in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Egbunu tore a ligament in his right thumb during practice Tuesday, leaving his availability against Arkansas in doubt.

"It's big for us," White said Wednesday following practice in Nashville. "He's really our best interior defender, by far, and interior rebounder, and really our only interior scorer. He's come a long way this season. He's coming off probably his best couple of weeks, so it would be a blow to this team."

The 6-foot-11 sophomore has been cleared to play and will dress for the game Thursday, but White said "realistically, I don't know how much he'll be able to go." White said the plan is to evaluate Egbunu during warmups and see whether he can play.

Egbunu has been fitted with a brace, but that affected his ability to catch, dribble and shoot in practice.

"He looked like his thumb hurt," White said. "He had trouble catching the basketball and holding onto the basketball. ... Hopefully he can fight through some of that pain and help his teammates, play some minutes and hopefully be somewhat effective. But at the same time, I'm not completely sold that he'll be effective at all."

Egbunu is averaging 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. He scored a career-high 27 points in a loss to Kentucky last week and had become Florida's most consistent scoring threat in the paint, hitting 27 of his last 37 shots.

But he fell for a pump fake in practice and landed on teammate Kevarrius Hayes in what White called a "fluke injury."

"Just really disappointing," White said. "But at the same time, we're not going to sit here and make excuses. ... It's unfortunate for this team, but it's also unfortunate for John because he's been starting to come into his own a little bit. But all you can do at this point is try to overcome it. Playing Arkansas was going to be very difficult regardless of whether John is full strength or not."

If Egbunu can't play, the Gators will look to get more from Hayes, a freshman, and junior Schuyler Rimmer.

Hayes and Rimmer likely would have their hands full with Razorbacks center Moses Kingsley, who averages 16.1 points and 9.2 rebounds.

"Maybe he can be somewhat effective in terms of defending and throwing his body around with Kingsley in there," White said. "Kingsley's a terrific player, one of the most improved players in the country in my opinion."

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