Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators exit SEC Tournament with OT loss to Mississippi State

By OnlyGators.com Staff
March 9, 2023
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators exit SEC Tournament with OT loss to Mississippi State

Image Credit: UAA

It was an inopportune time for a poor-shooting team to experience one of its worst shooting performances of the season, but that’s nevertheless what transpired Thursday as the (8) Florida Gators fell 69-68 to the (9) Mississippi State Bulldogs in overtime in their first game of the 2023 SEC Tournament. Florida (16-16) fell back to .500 and dropped its only remaining opportunity at earning an NCAA Tournament bid by dropping out of the league event.

Gators head coach Todd Golden also lost to a fellow first-year SEC peer for the first time after a 7-0 start in such matchups this season. This on the back of freshman sensation Riley Kugel, who had broken out for Florida over the final two weeks, went ice cold from the floor in a key moment.

Now out of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season, the Gators are also in danger of finishing a campaign below .500 for just the second time since 1998. Let’s take a look at what went down Thursday and what’s ahead for Florida with some Fastbreak Takeaways.

It was over when … redshirt senior guard Myreon Jones’ running 3-pointer at the overtime buzzer clanged off the rim. Florida trailed by five almost immediately once the OT period began after fouling a 3-pointer and allowing an alley oop. The deficit increased to seven before Kugel drained a trey as part of a seven-point flurry that put the Gators up two with 11 seconds remaining. Kugel had been held scoreless the prior 18 minutes. However, the Bulldogs drove in a layup on the next possession for the go-ahead basket.

First half focus: Mississippi State jumped ahead 14 points with 6 minutes left in the period as it pieced together a 14-2 run with Florida missing eight straight shots and committing three turnovers during that stretch. The Gators hit just 3 of 15 shots over the final 11:42 and did not score a single second-chance or fastbreak point, getting outscored 19-0 combined by the Bulldogs in those categories. UF was also dominated inside, losing the rebounding battle 23-14 and scoring battle 16-10.

Second half stand: Florida opened the second half on a 14-3 run to lead 42-39 with 13 minutes remaining as Mississippi State went on a stretch where it hit just 1 of 16 field goals spanning halftime. The Gators soon fell behind again until a rainbow 3-pointer from Jones tied the game at 51 with about 6 minutes left. Florida struggled to put Mississippi State away, making just one of 11 shots with four turnovers to find itself down six with less than 2 minutes remaining. Jones was the saving grace, though hitting his second and third consecutive 3-pointers to tie the game at 57 with 36.3 seconds left; a fourth attempt just missed to send the game to overtime. The Gators went 3 of 14 from the field to end the half with all three makes coming as long-range shots from Jones.

Exceptional effort: Jones was not the leading scorer, but his 11 points and trio of huge 3-pointers kept Florida in a game it otherwise would have lost in regulation. He hit 3 of 6 triples with seven rebounds, though the four turnovers were a rough spot. No one else on the team had a standout performance.

Kugel (4/13 FG, 2/8 3PT), sophomore G Kowacie Reeves (4/12 FG, 1/7 3PT) and sophomore G Will Richard (2/10 FG, 1/7 3PT) all struggled massively, failing to make their baskets and Kugel and Reeves each committing four turnovers. Kugel posted a team-high 14 points, Reeves chipped in 11 and Richard added six as the Gators’ three best recent scorers all largely fell silent in an important contest.

Odds & ends: Florida fell to 67-53 all-time against Mississippi State with a 2-3 record in SEC Tournament meetings … the Gators are now 46-53 all-time in the tourney … this was Golden’s first loss to a first-year SEC coach after starting 7-0 on the season … Florida fell to 3-12 this season when trailing at halftime and 0-15 when not leading with 5 minutes left … the Gators are now 8-14 when being outrebounded but surprisingly lost for just the third time when outshooting an opponent from the field (15-3) and fourth time from 3-point range (13-4) …

What it means / what’s next? Florida’s last, remote chance at an NCAA Tournament berth passed it by, and it now sits at .500 with a legitimate chance to finish below that mark for just the second time since 1998. The Gators will now wait and see if they receive an invite to the NIT, which they would likely accept for the first time since 2016. This marks the second straight season and fourth time in the last eight opportunities that Florida will not play in the NCAA Tournament. It continues a downward trend for a program that participated in the event over 14 of the prior 16 seasons with two national championships and two other Final Fours during that span.

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