By Jordan McPherson – OnlyGators.com Contributor
No. 18 Florida Gators basketball (3-3) put itself in an early hole and was never able to take a lead on Friday evening as the No. 5 North Carolina Tar Heels (5-1) completed a wire-to-wire 75-64 win in the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis at the Imperial Arena in Paradise Island, Bahamas.
The Gators officially finished in sixth place with a 1-2 record in the tournament and will return to the United States with a .500 record on the season.
OnlyGators.com breaks down Friday’s action with eight quick-hitters:
It was over when:: UNC point guard Marcus Paige hit two free throws with 10:44 left in the second half to extend the Tar Heels’ lead to 51-39. From that point on, UF failed to get within single digits until junior guard Michael Frazier II hit a three-pointer with 2:04 to go. Though North Carolina’s lead was cut to seven at 67-60, UNC closed the contest on an 8-4 run to seal the victory.
Significant stretch:: Trailing by 16 heading into halftime, Florida went on a 14-6 run over the first 6:17 of the second half to cut its deficit to eight. Redshirt senior center Jon Horford scored seven of points on that run, nailing a three-pointer and finishing a dunk on back-to-back possessions before hitting a layup about two minutes later.
Prominent players:: Marcus Meeks posted his third double-double of the season, leading the Tar Heels with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 13 rebounds in 27 minutes of play. Gators sophomore PG Kasey Hill led his team with a career-high 20 points on 5-of-12 shooting, hitting 10 of his 12 attempts from the charity stripe. Hill’s point total was his first double-digit performance of the season and topped his previous career-high of 15 from the 2013 season opener against North Florida.
First half focus:: UNC took a 12-0 lead to open the contest as UF missed its first 10 shots from the field. Hill opened scoring for Florida 6:45 into the game and finished the half with eight points on .500 shooting (4 for 8). Outside of Frazier (eight points, five rebounds), the rest of Florida’s roster failed to provide additional support; the Gators as a whole going 9-for-31 from the field (29 percent), 1-15 from beyond the arc and turned the ball over nine times. The Tar Heels had four players score at least seven points in the opening 20 while combining for a 57.7 percent shooting clip.
Standout stats:: Florida’s 29-percent shooting in the first half marked the first time the Gators connected on less than 30 percent of their shots since their 66-49 win against Fresno State on Dec. 21, 2013. UF somewhat rebounded by shooting 36.7 percent from the field in the second half, but it couldn’t overcome the poor start.
What it means:: Florida dropped its third game of the season — equaling its loss total from last season in just six contests. The Gators are back to .500 on the season and are at risk of becoming unraked when the next top 25s are released
Next up:: The Gators will head to Lawrence, Kansas, to play the No. 11 Kansas Jayhawks (4-1). Florida is 2-3 all-time against Kansas and won the most recent matchup in the series — a 67-61 victory in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Dec. 10. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m., and the contest will be televised on ESPN.
Everything else:: Sitting out UF’s win against UAB on Thursday, redshirt junior G Eli Carter checked in for the Gators with 14:35 remaining in the first half. Carter finished with one point on a first-half free throw in 13 minutes. He missed all four of his three-point attempts. … Frazier tallied 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting against UNC. … The Gators bested the Tar Heels in just one category — free throw percentage – as UF landed 18 of its 23 shots from the charity stripe (.783) while UNC sank 23-of -31 tries (.742). … redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith and freshman F Devin Robinson each fouled out of the game