Florida vs. Virginia score, takeaways: Gators drop winnable game via two excruciating late turnovers

By OnlyGators.com Staff
November 10, 2023
Florida vs. Virginia score, takeaways: Gators drop winnable game via two excruciating late turnovers

Image Credit: UAA

What may have been a signature win to kick start the 2023-24 season for Florida Gators men’s basketball was instead the latest disappointing late-game loss for a program that suffered so many similar decisions in its first year under head coach Todd Golden. Florida moved to 1-1 on Friday night after falling 73-70 to the Virginia Cavaliers in the 2023 Basketball Hall of Fame Series at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.

Let’s take a look at what went right for the Gators on Friday night with some Fastbreak Takeaways.

It was over when … the final buzzer sounded. Junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. first turned the ball over with Florida down one with 28.1 seconds remaining before coughing it up again down two with 12.3 seconds left as Virginia hit its free throws to pull away with the win. The Gators failed to even take a single shot on two possessions with chances to win the game.

Florida trailed by 11 early in the second half but used a 12-0 run to take a 55-54 lead with 8:15 to play as UVA entered a 7:51 field goal drought. The Cavs bounced back with a 7-0 stretch to take a 5-point lead with 6:16 remaining, but the Gators consistently fought back to either tie or take the lead despite sophomore center Micah Handlogten fouling out. Florida also missed two key free throws in the game’s final minutes, but more worrisome was its failure to capitalize on the aforementioned end-of-game possessions.

First half focus: Florida opened with an eight-point lead only to go 3:49 without a basket allowing Virginia to take control. The Gators pummeled the Cavaliers down low early with 18 points in the paint but failed to score anything inside the arc over the final 8:02 and had the ball stolen on their last possession. UF ultimately trailed by four at the break with junior guard Will Richard 3 of 3 from downtown and sophomore G Riley Kugel 1 of 7 from the field.

Exceptional efforts: Kugel ultimately led the Gators with 17 points, but he hit just 7 of 19 shots with 4 turnovers and a 1 of 3 mark from the free-throw line. Richard was similarly inconsistent, finishing with 16 points but going 1 of 7 from the field in the second half. Handlogten (14 points, 14 rebounds) and redshirt senior forward Tyrese Samuel (10 points, 11 rebounds) each contributed double-doubles, but it was their presence in the paint on both ends (3 blocks combined) that made a difference for UF.

It gets worse: Clayton’s end-of-game turnovers were just the final symptom of a horrendously forgettable performance. He finished 2 of 10 from the field and 0 of 5 from long range with 5 turnovers, though he did grab four boards and dish a team-high 5 assists.

Odds & ends: Florida is now 2-2 all-time against Virginia … the Cavs were the first of four ACC opponents the Gators will play this month alone … UF committed 16 turnovers to just six for UVA … Florida dominated inside with a 47-30 rebounding edge and 38-30 paint scoring advantage … the Cavs won the bench scoring battle 26-4 and scored 11 points off turnovers

What it means: Florida was short-handed in the backcourt with redshirt senior point guard Zyon Pullin serving the second of a three-game suspension to open the season. With him distributing the rock, this would likely have been a win for UF. But he was not on the court, and there was no excuse for the Gators’ level of play in the final 30 seconds. Once Clayton committed the first turnover, no scenario existed in which head coach Todd Golden should have put the ball in his hands a second time. Kugel not touching the ball on either possession is equally as head-scratching, particularly when he probably should have been the one driving to the hoop and taking one or both shots.

Florida will improve from this — at least one would hope — but these end-of-game turnovers without getting shots off are undoubtedly familiar to Gators fans as they seemed to happen constantly across Golden’s first season. In fact, an identical scenario happened at the end of the first half Friday night with Samuel coughing up the ball.

There’s no moral victory coming out of this game, but it should be noted that Kugel and Richard combined to shoot 38% from the field, Florida did not have its starting point guard, Handlogten fouled out and yet the Gators still only lost by three away from home to a talented team and coach. It’s obvious that Florida’s increased size will benefit the program over the remainder of the season, and the team battled down the stretch rather than fall apart when facing adversity, which happened frequently in 2022-23.

What’s next? The Gators return to the friendly confines of the Stephen C. O’Connell Center for a two-game homestand next week against Florida A&M and Florida State, the latter of which is part of a doubleheader with the women’s team. Florida will host FAMU on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET with the game airing live on SEC Network+.

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