Florida vs. Alabama score, takeaways: Gators destroy Tide again, advance to SEC Tournament semifinals

By OnlyGators.com Staff
March 15, 2024
Florida vs. Alabama score, takeaways: Gators destroy Tide again, advance to SEC Tournament semifinals

Image Credit: UAA

The Florida Gators should have swept their regular-season series against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Settling for a dominant rubber-match win in the quarterfinals of the 2024 SEC Tournament will have to do.

(6) Florida led by as many as 24 points in the second half while pulling away from (3) Alabama for a 102-88 win on Friday night in Nashville, Tennessee, to advance to the semifinals. With the victory, the Gators outscored the Tide 207-175 over their last two meetings across 11 days, and they were either leading or tied across six of seven periods the teams played this season.

After a rough first half against (11) Georgia to open SEC Tournament play Thursday night, Florida head coach Todd Golden clearly lit a fire under his team, which fought through early adversity to dominate Alabama just 24 hours later. Let’s take a look at what went right for UF in Nashville.

It was over when … junior guard Will Richard made a 3-pointer, his only basket of the second half, to push the Gators back ahead 24 points with 8:13 to play. Florida entered the second half with a 15-point lead and extended its end-of-first-half scoring stretch to 31-6 spanning the break. Not long after, UF jumped ahead 24 for the first time. Though Bama used a 7-0 run to cut its deficit to 15 points with 4 minutes remaining, the higher seed was never in the game during the latter period.

First half focus: Alabama scored the first eight points of the contest as Florida struggled to find efficiency through most of the opening period. Suddenly, the Gators took their first lead of the game by completely breaking out with an extended 21-2 run, including 3-pointers from junior G Walter Clayton Jr. and redshirt senior point guard Zyon Pullin. Florida went from trailing for 14:29 to outscoring Bama by 19 points over the final 5:24. The Tide went without points for 4:29, and the Gators completely poured it on down the stretch, leading 48-33 at the break — a 23-point turnaround given they started the game with an 0-8 deficit. UF’s 48 points were the most in program history during a half of play in the SEC Tournament.

Exceptional efforts: Redshirt senior forward Tyrese Samuel continued his hot play from halftime of the second-round tussle with Georgia. The Gators’ big man scored 18 points on 7 of 14 shooting, hitting all four of his free throws and grabbing four rebounds. It was Clayton who led all scorers, though, posting 23 points. He was inefficient, hitting just 5 of 13 baskets, but made two important triples and all 11 of his free throws. Pullin did a bit of everything for Florida, scoring 19 points while dishing three assists, grabbing four boards and hitting 10 of 11 gimmies. Not to be overlooked was freshman center Alex Condon, making the most of his 18 minutes with 12 points and three rebounds. Richard also contributed 10 points (on efficient 4 of 8 shooting) with four boards.

Odds & ends: Florida improved to 72-79 all-time against Alabama, 7-7 in SEC Tournament play and 2-2 under Golden … the teams split the regular-season series with UF winning Friday’s rubber match … … the Gators are now 48-52 in the SEC Tournament, playing in the semifinals for the first time since 2019 and looking to advance to the finals ofr the first time since 2014 … Florida hit 86.1% of its free throws, the team’s fourth-best mark of the season, one day after hitting just 56.1%, its fourth-worst mark of the season … the Gators improved to 19-6 when leading at halftime, 20-4 when leading with 5 minutes left, 19-5 when outrebounding an opponent, 19-3 when outshooting an opponent, 14-2 when shooting 45% or better, 16-4 when outshooting an opponent from downtown and 16-4 when taking more free throws

What it means: Friday night marked a crucial Quadrant 1 victory for a Gators team that needed a resume booster after its tough loss to Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale. Florida is now 5-8 in Q1 games, 9-9 against the first two quadrants and 14-1 otherwise. That puts UF in the mix for a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and if it continues progressing through the SEC Tournament, it could play its way even further up the bracket.

The Tide have been ranked for the vast majority of the season, yet the Gators — unranked for nearly the entire campaign despite holding a similar record with comparable win quality — have completely dominated them over their last two meetings, winning those games by an average of 16 points. It’s quite possible the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will value Florida higher than pundits, but what’s certain is that UF is comfortably in the tournament and playing some of its best basketball of the season at the right time.

What’s next? With the top three seeds in the SEC Tournament all eliminated Friday — none advancing to the semifinals for the first time since 1983 — the Gators as the No. 6 seed is the second-highest rated team remaining in the bracket. Florida will face (7) Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon after 3:30 p.m. ET in a game that will air live on ESPN. TAMU handed UF one of its most disappointing losses of the season with the Gators falling 67-66 at the Aggies back on Feb. 3 despite leading by 12 points in the second half. This will be a significant opportunity for revenge from an improved Florida basketball team.

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