Florida basketball score: Gators, Tyrese Samuel battle back to down Georgia, advance in SEC Tournament

By OnlyGators.com Staff
March 15, 2024
Florida basketball score: Gators, Tyrese Samuel battle back to down Georgia, advance in SEC Tournament

Image Credit: SEC

If winning ugly is a learned trait, the (6) Florida Gators earned a bachelor’s degree in the discipline Thursday night as they battled back from one of their worst halves of the season to complete a 85-80 victory over the (11) Georgia Bulldogs in the second round of the 2024 SEC Tournament. With the win, newly extended Florida head coach Todd Golden improved to 5-0 over his predecessor, Mike White, with the Gators winning their 11 straight game over the rival Dawgs.

Florida also captured its first SEC Tournament victory since 2021 as it continues an attempt to improve its resume ahead of Selection Sunday. It was definitely a tale of two halves for the Gators on Thursday evening, so let’s take a look at what went down in Nashville, Tennessee.

It was over when … sophomore guard Riley Kugel made six straight free throws over the final 15 seconds to close out the game.

Redshirt senior point guard Zyon Pullin was called for four fouls with 15:13 remaining as the Gators got into major foul trouble early, but redshirt senior center Tyrese Samuel responded by scoring six points as part of a 12-2 run to push Florida back into the lead with Pullin out of the game. The Gators increased that advantage to eight points with as many minutes remaining on a 3-pointer by junior G Walter Clayton Jr. The Dawgs quickly answered with a 10-2 run, but Clayton drilled another triple as Florida pushed back ahead by six inside 4 minutes.

Georgia cut its deficit to a single point as Pullin fouled out with 2 minutes left; the Gators’ floor general was whistled for an offensive foul despite neither extending his arm nor pushing his defender while driving to the basket. Clayton responded by converting an And-1, and junior G Will Richard cleaned up an offensive rebound with a layup to push Florida ahead by five with 64 seconds remaining. UGA never got closer than three points the rest of the way.

First half focus: Richard started on fire hitting 3 of 4 triples to post 13 of Florida’s first 21 points as the Gators led by nine midway through the half. However, Georgia entered the bonus with 8:09 left in the period and used an 18-3 run to take a six-point lead it eventually extended to seven. UF scored six of the last eight heading into the locker rooms but trailed by three as Samuel played his worst half of the season, hitting 1 of 8 free throws and looking hapless offensively until a late alley-oop dunk. Golden did not call a timeout until there was 0.9 seconds left in the period, doing nothing to stem UGA’s flow nor attempt to ward off his team’s struggles. Florida did not score a single second-chance point over the first 20 minutes, and it struggled to guard beyond the arc.

Exceptional efforts: Clayton scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half, hitting 3 of 7 triples and all five of his free throws in the game. Richard, who was not as effective as a scorer after the break, busted his butt for the entirety of the team-high 37 minutes he was on the court. He finished with 17 points and seven rebounds for his most effective overall performance in weeks.

Perhaps most impressive was Samuel, who was horrendous in the first half yet dug deep and gave maximum effort over the latter 20 minutes. After going 1 of 8 from the charity stripe with three points to start the game, he hit 8 of 15 attempts in the second half, posting a double double in the latter period alone. Samuel finished with 17 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, becoming just the second UF player to go 15-15 in an SEC Tournament game (Stacey Poole). His 23 free throw attempts and 14 missed free throws both set SEC Tournament records, and Golden lightened the mood by poking Samuel in good-natured fashion during the post-game interview on SEC Network.

Odds & ends: Florida improved to 125-103 all-time against Georgia with a 3-1 margin in the SEC Tournament … Golden improved to 5-0 over White with the Gators holding an 11-game winning streak over the Dawgs dating back to the 2019-20 season … this was Florida’s first SEC Tournament victory since 2021 … UF improved to 20-4 when leading or tied with 5 minutes left , 18-5 when outrebounding an opponent, 18-4 when outshooting an opponent and 15-4 when attempting more free throws … the Gators outrebounded the Dawgs 52-36 with an astounding 32-13 margin in the second half … Florida had 12 of its 16 offensive rebounds, all nine second-chance points, all six blocks and four of six steals in the second half

What it means: Florida played horrible basketball in the first half and rough basketball in the second half, yet it did not trail once over the final 13:10. While Golden made nary an adjustment to start the game, he clearly got on the team at the break and came out of the locker room with a cohesive plan that led the Gators to victory. Florida fought through horrendous passes and wasted possessions, a total inability to attack the zone in the first half, atrocious officiating that again seemed to be immensely lopsided, massive struggles on the glass in the first half, problems finishing around the rim throughout the entire game and foul trouble that hamstrung its lineup down the stretch. Despite all of those disadvantages, the Gators pulled out a victory — even if they were the far more talented team entering the game.

Being able to win ugly is a learned trait, and it’s one that could serve UF well this postseason. Florida’s positioning in the NCAA Tournament was unaffected by Thursday’s victory, but a loss certainly would have hurt its resume. The Gators have every opportunity to improve their seeding if they can stay alive in league tourney play.

What’s next? Florida will seek to win a rubber match in the third round when it battles (3) Alabama on Friday. The game will tip off at 9:30 p.m. ET and air live on SEC Network. The Gators split the regular-season series with the Crimson Tide, falling 98-93 in overtime on Feb. 21 before winning 105-87 at home on March 5. UF led the first matchup by nine points with 6:13 to play before collapsing in regulation and ultimately dropping the game in OT on the road.

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