The Florida Gators lost a game by a single point for the second time in three days as the Texas A&M Aggies, which led for nearly the entire contest, fought off a late surge to pick up a 63-62 win on Saturday night at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas.
Florida (12-13, 5-7 SEC) fell below .500 through 25 games for the first time since head coach Billy Donovan‘s intial season with the team in 1996-97 with its defeat at the hands of Texas A&M (17-7, 8-4 SEC), giving the Gators four-straight losses – their first such streak since 2007-08.
OnlyGators.com breaks down Saturday’s action with eight quick-hitters:
It was over when: Florida trailed for 37:33 before taking its first lead, using a 6-0 run including a step-back jumper by redshirt junior guard Eli Carter and fastbreak layup tip-in from sophomore center Chris Walker to jump ahead 62-61 with 1:45 to play. A careless turnover by sophomore point guard Kasey Hill – following a big defensive stop – put Texas A&M back on top by one. The Gators touched the ball last, calling a timeout with 5.3 seconds remaining but nevertheless failing to get off a shot, passing the ball twice with redshirt junior forward Alex Murphy attempting a three after the buzzer.
“A&M really had control of the game from start to finish. They were probably a little bit surprised – as most everybody else was – when we went up by one,” said Donovan. “We got a good stop and then we turned the ball over, which we fouled [on the play]. … I thought we had a chance [at the end]. Dorian probably should’ve made a play on that, but he’s very unselfish and it was an unselfish play by him … but there wasn’t enough time to do that. He probably needed to be more selfish in that situation.”
Prominent player: Carter scored a season- and game-high 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting, hitting 4-of-10 threes and making some clutch shots for Florida late in the contest. He was joined by Finney-Smith, who posted a double-double of 11 points (5-of-13) and 10 boards. Somehow, neither player took the final shot despite both touching the ball on the game’s last possession.
“He played well today, but I think if you go back the last six or seven games, he shoots 21 percent from the three-point line. That’s been kind of our struggle offensively has been the inconsistency of really trying to get back-to-back performances offensively,” said Donovan of Carter. “He’s 9-for-17, which was great, but if you go back to the last six games, his shooting percentages were really, really pretty woeful. If we can just get some consistent scoring from him … if he could be a 35-36-37 percent three-point shooter on a consistent basis [that would be great]. … Clearly from an offensive perspective, he totally kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win the game. He did a lot of really good things tonight offensively.”
First half focus: A three from Finney-Smith cut Texas A&M’s early lead, but the hosts responded with a 6-0 run to jump ahead 18-9 as Florida started 4-for-17 from the field and 1-for-7 from long range. The Aggies stretched their early advantage to 11, but the Gators put together a 9-2 run to end the half, making four-straight field goals, including a three by Carter with four seconds left and an inbounds lob from Carter to Finney-Smith at the buzzer. Prior to that stretch over the final 1:51 of the half, UF went 8-for-26 from the field and 1-for-12 from three.
Perfect plays: With two seconds remaining in the first half, Carter inbounded the ball from near midcourt with a long lob to Finney-Smith, who caught it near the rim and laid it in at the buzzer. The basket completed a 9-2 run for Florida and helped the visitors cut their deficit to four at halftime. Later in the contest, freshman point guard Chris Chiozza found Walker on an alley-oop out of a timeout. Walker finished with 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting with three blocks but only grabbed a single rebound in the contest. “When his motor is running and he’s playing with energy and he gets his athleticism into the game, then he really helps us,” Donovan said about Walker’s performance. “He did some good things tonight for us. The only thing I wish he would’ve done a little bit better is, for the amount of minutes he got, he only grabbed one rebound.”
Standout stat: The Aggies owned the paint on Saturday, scoring 42 of their 63 points around the basket and winning the rebounding battle 34-32. TAMU also had 21 assists on 25 made baskets, while UF had just 14 on 26 made field goals.
“We didn’t have enough resistance – defensively – midway through the second half. They were just driving the ball to the basket and posting up and we were giving up layups,” explained Donovan. “Through all these mistakes, so to speak, we’re still giving us a chance competitively there that we’re close. As much as we got dominated around the paint, the reality is it’s a one-point game in the final five seconds. If we can get better at some of those things, I think that would help.”
What it means: The Gators fell to 2-6 in games decided by two points or less this season, dropping consecutive contests by a single point after falling to Ole Miss 62-61.
Next up: UF will host Vanderbilt on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Commodores dominated the Gators in the teams’ previous matchup, winning 67-61 in Nashville, Tennessee, in a final score that was not indicative of the level of play in the game.
Everything else: Two days after the best game of his career, freshman F Devin Robinson was 0-for-4 form the field with no points, one board and four fouls … Chiozza is now 3-for-19 (.158) beyond the arc in SEC play; he was 13-for-29 (.448) from long range in non-conference action … Hill went 0-for-7 from the field and committed three turnovers but matched a career-high with 10 assists while grabbing six rebounds … Florida trailed for 38:35 of the 40-minute contest, only holding a lead for 35 seconds … the Gators only got to the free throw line seven times, hitting just four foul shots