Florida vs. Texas A&M score: Gators rally from 18 down, advance to first SEC Tournament final since 2014

By OnlyGators.com Staff
March 16, 2024
Florida vs. Texas A&M score: Gators rally from 18 down, advance to first SEC Tournament final since 2014

Image Credit: UAA

Authoring its second-biggest comeback under head coach Todd Golden, the (6) Florida Gators battled back from 18 points down in the first half to win 95-90 over the (7) Texas A&M Aggies in the semifinal round of the 2024 SEC Tournament on Saturday. With the victory, Florida advances to the final and seeks to win his first SEC Tournament championship since 2014, a decade ago.

It was the second straight game in which the Gators rallied from an early deficit and exploded offensively around halftime, this effort largely led by a breakout performance from sophomore guard Denzel Aberdeen. The gumption and resolve that Florida has shown of late are traits the program has developed throughout the 2023-24 season, and it appears as if the Gators are peaking at just the right time with the 2024 NCAA Tournament approaching.

Let’s take a look at what went down Saturday as Florida continued its successful run in Nashville, Tennessee.

It was over when … freshman center Alex Condon made one of two free throws, pushing the Gators ahead seven points with 21 seconds left in the game. Florida overcame missing its final three field goal attempts by hitting 10 of 11 shots from the charity stripe over the last 3:21.

Redshirt senior point guard Zyon Pullin hit a 3-pointer right out of halftime, and junior G Walter Clayton Jr. later followed with one of his own as Florida opened the second half with a 10-4 scoring edge (30-14 spanning halftime) to trail by just a single basket. Consecutive triples by junior G Will Richard and Clayton then gave the Gators their first lead of the game with 13:51 left, and another by Aberdeen ended a 7-0 run that pushed Florida ahead six.

Texas A&M battled back to tie the game, but UF again responded with an extended 14-3 scoring stretch, including treys from Aberdeen and Clayton (4-point play), to take a 11-point lead with 3:21 to play. Again the Aggies answered with a 9-2 stretch to cut their deficit to four inside 2 minutes, but they ultimately trailed for the final 7:13 of the contest.

First half focus: Florida again started cold from the floor, struggling against the zone and finding itself down 13 points as Texas A&M went on a 13-4 run midway through the period. The Aggies added a 7-0 run to jump ahead by 18 as the Gators opened the period 5 of 18 from the field with just one basket over a span of 9:20. Florida fought back by picking up the pace, using an extended 20-8 scoring stretch, including seven points by Aberdeen, to cut its deficit to six. However, TAMU scored the final basket of the period to lead by eight at the break.

Exceptional efforts: Saturday marked a breakout performance for Aberdeen, who scored a team- and career-high 20 points hitting 4 of 5 attempts from beyond the arc and all four of his free throws. One of five Gators in double figures, he also grabbed a career-high four steals in 23 minutes, the second-most in his young career. Clayton, Pullin and Richard combined for 31 of Florida’s 53 second-half points, hitting 6 of 12 attemtps from downtown in the latter 20 minutes. Clayton made 5 of 10 tres in the game for 16 points, Pullin hit 6 of 7 free throws for 15 points with five assists and four boards, and Richard thrived in both phases, making 4 of 9 triples and 7 of 8 gimies for 19 points with four rebounds.

Not to be outdone was redshirt senior center Tyrese Samuel, who poured it on and filled out his stat line for the second straight game. Samuel posted 15 points, six boards and five dimes while hitting 5 of 7 free throws, continuing to progress at the charity stripe after a rough start in the first half against Vanderbilt two days ago.

Odds & ends: Florida improved to 10-9 all-time against Texas A&M with its first such SEC Tournament victory (1-2) and first win in the series under Golden (1-3) … the Gators are now 49-52 all-time in the SEC Tournament, advancing to the first final since 2014, the last time they won a championship … Florida improved to just 5-3, with consecutive wins, when trailing at halftime and just 5-5 when being outrebounded … the Gators are now 21-4 when leading with 5 minutes left, 15-2 when shooting 45% or better from the field, 20-3 when outshooting an opponent, 4-1 when shooting 40% or better from downtown, 17-4 when outshooting an opponent fro long range, 17-4 when attempting more free throws, 14-7 when holding a bench scoring edge and 10-2 when five or more players score in double figures

Florida was dominated on the glass and in the paint with a 32-42 (9-6 offensive) rebounding deficit and disadvantages of 26-34 on points in the paint and 8-22 on second-chance points … the Gators created edges in fastbreak scoring (14-7) and bench scoring (29-10)

What it means: Saturday afternoon marked another critical Quadrant 1 victory for a Gators team that is continuing to boost its resume after losing to Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale. Florida is now 6-8 in Q1 games, 10-9 against the first two quadrants and 14-1 otherwise. UF’s floor is now a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but it should be a No. 6 seed win or lose on Sunday with a No. 5 seed a definite possibility.

The victory was also one of revenge for Florida, which led by 12 points at Texas A&M in early February only to eventually fall 67-66. The Gators have picked up most of their Q1 wins late in the season — and they’ve overcome most of their notable SEC losses by defeating the same opponents, which should serve them well as the NCAA Selection Committee considers where to seed the program. What remains certain is that UF is playing some of its best basketball of the season when it matters the most.

What’s next? Golden will again meet mentor Bruce Pearl as Florida faces (4) Auburn in the SEC Tournament championship on Sunday. The game will tip off at 1 p.m. ET and air live nationally on ESPN. The Gators routed the Tigers 81-65 at home back on Feb. 10 with Golden now 1-1 against Pearl. Auburn is No. 5 in the NET rankings and No. 12 in the AP Top 25.

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