Florida Gators basketball (6-3) lost its second straight contest – both to ranked opponents – after being taken down 56-52 Saturday night by the No. 1 Michigan State Spartans (12-0) at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan.
The Gators have now fallen to the three best teams they’ve faced this season, thought Florida has continuously flashed and shown signs of improvement through the first five weeks of the campaign.
OnlyGators.com breaks down Saturday’s loss with nine quick-hitters:
It was over when: The Gators unraveled – just a bit – late in the contest. Taking a six-point lead with 91 seconds to play, the Spartans did so by forcing two turnovers and seeing Florida commit an unforced error by batting a defensive rebound out of bounds. Michigan State hung tough from there as the visitors continued missing shots and simply did not make a dent in MSU’s advantage.
Stepping up: Sophomore point guard Chris Chiozza earned the start for Florida on Saturday, but his 0-for-3 first half did not impress. Chiozza was not deterred, however, and turned on the jets out of the break to hit four straight shots – including three triples – to key an 8-0 run and lock up the Gators with the Spartans at 38 with 14 minutes to play. Chiozza finished with 11 points, three assists, two boards and two steals – and most importantly without a single turnover.
Significant stretch: Florida took its first lead of the game with 9:53 to play at the conclusion of a 14-4 run (including the aforementioned 8-0 stretch). Redshirt senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith hit a big three to propel UF ahead of MSU, though it did not take long for Michigan State to retake the advantage.
First half focus: It was difficult for the Gators to score in the early going as they started 0-for-7 from the field and went just 9-for-32 for the half (0-for-8 from three), but Florida’s pressure defense got to Michigan State (9-for-29) and kept the visitors in the game. Redshirt sophomore center John Egbunu picked up two fouls in the first 2:15 and never returned to the court in the opening 20, and the Gators two new starters – Chioza and redshirt freshman guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez – combined to go 0-for-7 from the floor.
He’s just a foul machine: Fouling had not been an issue to this point for Egbunu, but it most certainly was Saturday. In addition to the two fouls he picked up in the first 2:15 of the first half, Egbunu found the bench early in the second 20 minutes by committing two more fouls in just five minutes of court action. When he returned late in the second half, Egbunu committed his fifth foul almost immediately, leaving the game with two rebounds and a block in just seven minutes of action.
King of the Hill (kinda): Benched for the first time in 31 contests, junior point guard Kasey Hill played exceedingly well, scoring a team-high 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting with six boards and four steals, all while avoiding turning the ball over more than once. Where Hill still hurt his team was at the line, as he made just 3-of-8 attempts from the charity stripe, accounting for half of Florida’s misses.
Salt in the wound: Not only did MSU beat UF on Saturday, the Spartans did so on a night when they honored their 2000 NCAA National Championship-winning club … which just so happened to beat the Gators in the title game that year.
Everything else: Francis-Ramirez is really struggling; he went 0-for-7 from the field and is now shooting .204 on the season, .154 from beyond the arc … Finney-Smith made just 4-of-11 shots but matched Hill with a team-high 13 points … UF went 10-for-18 from the charity stripe and 4-for-18 from three … the Gators had a lead or tie with the Spartans for just 5:02 … Michigan State outrebounded Florida 45-34 … UF had 10 assists on 19 baskets compared to 18 on 21 for MSU
Up next: With just three nonconference games remaining, the Gators will next travel to Sunrise, Florida, to take on Oklahoma State in the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic next Saturday at 8 p.m. UF has a great track record in the OBBC and will be going up against a beatable foe in the Cowboys.