Florida basketball score: Gators mount epic comeback to force OT but get bounced in SEC Tournament

By Adam Silverstein
March 10, 2022
Florida basketball score: Gators mount epic comeback to force OT but get bounced in SEC Tournament

Image Credit: Tim Casey, UAA

A mostly lifeless performance from Florida Gators basketball nearly turned into one of the most epic comebacks in program history, though No. 9 seed Florida ultimately fell short in an 83-80 overtime loss to No. 8 seed Texas A&M in the 2022 SEC Tournament. After looking like they had no interest in playing the game over the first 35 minutes, the Gators somehow forced overtime and nearly picked up a shocking win.

It was Florida’s earliest elimination from the SEC Tournament since the 2008-09 season.

UF was swept by Texas A&M in a two-game series for the first time since 2015-16, head coach Mike White’s first season with the Gators. That was also the last time UF missed the NCAA Tournament, which will surely happen this season as it ended its campaign with a 3-5 record over its last eight games.

This performance may well have been the nail in the coffin for White’s tenure with the program. Given how poorly the team played for the majority of the game, it was a true shocker that it made an outstanding effort over the final 10 minutes, including overtime.

The Gators were punchless from the opening tipoff through the final few minutes of regulation when they made a thrilling late run to force overtime after trailing by as many as 16 points to keep their postseason hopes alive. However, Florida’s undisciplined, careless and inconsistent play ultimately closed its season with a thud.

What went down as the Gators saw their postseason aspirations come to a screeching halt? Let’s take a look with some Fastbreak Takeaways.

It was over when … Texas A&M’s Hassan Diarra drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to push his team ahead 83-80 in the final second. Florida took its first lead of the game on an And-1 by sophomore guard Kowacie Reeves early in the overtime period, giving Reeves 10 straight points and UF a 15-2 run spanning halftime. The Gators later retook the lead on five straight points from senior G Phlandrous Fleming Jr., including another converted And-1, with 48 seconds left. However, the TAMU soon tied the game, and UF wasted its final possession as Fleming chucked a triple early in the shot clock, giving the Aggies an additional possession that they used to their advantage. UF led for just 38 seconds in the game, all of which came in overtime.

Second half shocker: Texas A&M initially amassed a 16-point lead off a 13-0 first-half run as Florida went 5:18 in the opening period without a field goal. The Gators did answer with an 8-0 run and eventually traded baskets to end the opening 20 minutes down eight while going just 1 of 9 from downtown in the first half. The Aggies drained a 3-pointer as part of five straight points to retake a that 16-point advantage with 10:44 to play.

That lead seemed too much to overcome, but Texas A&M completely collapsed down the stretch. Florida took advantage of TAMU failing to drain a field goal over the final 5:41 of regulation by putting together an extended 30-15 scoring stretch to tie the game at 70. Reeves drained two 3-pointers (and made a free throw after being fouled on his first) as UF closed the period with a 12-2 run over the final 59 seconds to force overtime.

Exceptional efforts: Sophomore guard Niels Lane, who had flashed late in the season since returning from injury, broke out for the first time in his college career as the only consistent player on the court across the game’s first 35 minutes. Lane scored a career-high 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting with a team-high nine rebounds. However, Reeves was outstanding late, scoring all 21 of his points in the second half and overtime while adding six rebounds. Fleming also came through with some big shots to finish with 17 points, but he committed one-third of the Gators’ turnovers (6 of 18) in an incredibly sloppy performance.

Senior forward Colin Castleton, the team’s leader on and off the court all season, was often double- and sometimes triple-teamed. He finished with 15 points on 7 of 11 shooting with six boards; despite those numbers, he turned in an uninspiring performance that may have some NBA teams questioning whether he can cut it down low in the league.

What it means / what’s next? Florida extinguished its chances at the NCAA Tournament with its poor close to the regular season and a loss to Kentucky in its final contest. However, there was still an ember of hope left that only a significant run in the SEC Tournament could spark. Consider that now stamped out as well. The Gators will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since White’s initial season with the program, the 2015-16 campaign. They have also failed to win 20+ games for the third straight season while accumulating 13+ losses for the fourth time in White’s seven-year tenure.

There should be no doubt that White’s job is in serious jeopardy. Florida is neither playing nor recruiting well enough, and significant offseason changes to the roster after numerous players transferred were hardly a good look entering this campaign.

The Gators have become a middle-of-the-road SEC team under White’s tenure during a time in which SEC basketball is stronger than its been in years thanks to a concentrated effort throughout the league. Five teams are currently ranked among the AP Top 25, and there’s star coaches and players littered throughout the conference. Florida used to battle Kentucky for top billing in the SEC every season; it is now a complete afterthought in the league.

Coupled with waining interest and attendance from Gators fans in the Stephen O’Connell Center with dozens of empty seats visible on camera in seats owned by some of the program’s much staunch supporters, athletic director Scott Stricklin will soon have a (not-so-difficult, at least in our eyes) decision to make. Florida may be gun shy about firing White and paying another significant buyout just a few months after getting rid of head football coach Dan Mullen, but anything short of a leadership change will be a failure by administration. (There may also be other avenues in which a parting of ways can be accomplished.) Sources told OnlyGators.com late in the regular season that internal conversations about White’s future in orange and blue had already taken place.

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