Fastbreak: No. 1 Duke rallies to edge No. 7 Florida 87-84 in PK80 finals

By Adam Silverstein
November 27, 2017
Fastbreak: No. 1 Duke rallies to edge No. 7 Florida 87-84 in PK80 finals

Image Credit: ESPN Images

No. 7 Florida Gators basketball (5-1) nearly pulled off a tremendous early season-defining win in the finals of the PK80 Motion Bracket in Portland, Oregon, but it could not hold on to a massive lead and eventually succumed 87-84 to the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils (8-0) late Sunday night.

Let’s take a look at Florida’s first loss of the season in Fastbreak:

It was over when … Florida held a tremendous 17-point lead with 10 minutes to play and still led by 10 with five minutes left but nevertheless fell as it changed its style and made myriad mistakes down the stretch. Duke ended the game on a stunning 15-2 run as head coach Mike White made the ill-advised decision to have UF slow down its lightning-fast offense to nurse a lead. The Gators showed they are ineffective in the halfcourt with isolation possessions proving worthless as they took bad shots, turned the ball over repeatedly and even missed the front end of a crucial one-and-one late in the contest.

The Blue Devils consistently cut into their deficit by taking advantage of the Gators’ miscues and trailed by one with less than two minutes to play. A turnover by senior point guard Chris Chiozza led to two free throws for Duke. Redshirt junior guard Jalen Hudson missed the front end of a one-and-one on the ensuing possession and turned the ball over on Florida’s next touch. Duke hit two more free throws with nine seconds remaining, and UF failed to get a legitimate shot off on the last play of the game.

First half focus: Basketball is a game of runs, and the first 20 minutes of this showdown was a prime example of that. Florida opened on fire, outscoring the top team in the nation 21-6 to start the game. Duke quickly bounced back with a massive 38-16 stretch that saw it take a half-high seven-point lead. UF ensured it would not go into the locker rooms without a bang, however, rolling to a 16-5 edge in the closing minutes that gave it a four-point lead at the break.

Exceptional efforts: Sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen was Florida’s best overall player, scoring 17 points without many mistakes on the evening. Hudson hit half of his 20 shots for 24 points and 10 rebounds but made two crucial mistakes down the stretch, while Chiozza was nearly perfect in the first half but missed all eight of his second-half shots, including three makeable layups late in the game.

Odds and ends: Florida is now 2-14 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams with no victories in regular-season meetings against such opponents … the Gators led the Blue Devils for 34:31 of the 40-minute game, and Duke did not take a lead in the second half until there was 1:11 remaining … graduate transfer G Egor Koulechov had another rough night, hitting just 4-of-12 shots for 15 points with four fouls … Florida shot 14.3 percent from three and 34.3 percent from the field in the second half … Duke went 19-for-20 from the line in the game and made its comeback in large part by making all 14 of its second-half free throws (the Gators only got nine opportunities at the line in the second half and made six of those shots) … the Blue Devils had a win probability of 1.5 percent with 9:54 to play

What it means: Saying a team “choked” is cliche, but UF handed this game to Duke. There’s no question that Florida was the better team for the vast majority of the game despite playing with Chiozza injured and the entire team on short rest. This is the second time in recent memory that White has played conservative late with a big lead (Wisconsin), and both times it has come back to bite him (overtime forced in that game). These Gators look like the most athletic team in the country, and they need not shy away from what gives them advantage on the court. Still, Florida is deserving of its top-10 ranking. An argument could have been made that it might have deserved No. 1 … had it pulled off the win on Sunday.

Up next: UF will get nearly a week off to rest and recharge before it hosts Florida State on Monday, Dec. 4 at 9 p.m. The Gators will play three games in six days that week.

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