Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators barely escape ECU after lackluster performance in Lakeland

By OnlyGators.com Staff
December 14, 2023
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators barely escape ECU after lackluster performance in Lakeland

Image Credit: UAA

Thursday was a night to forget for the Florida Gators and head coach Todd Golden. Though Florida ultimately prevailed 70-65 over the East Carolina Pirates, it was an immensely problematic effort from a Gators team that was far more talented and capable than their opponent.

Golden avoided the program’s worst loss during his short tenure after Florida led by double digits in the first half but only held a single-point advantage late in the second half at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, Florida. Why the Gators (6-4) even agreed to a sponsored game at a Division II gymnasium — attended by a sparse crowd — is another question altogether.

Let’s take a look at what happened on Thursday night.

It was over when … redshirt senior forward Tyrese Samuel grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed 3-pointer from junior guard Walter Clayton Jr., slamming the ball home to push the Gators ahead 69-65 with 19 seconds remaining. It was an expertly drawn-up play by Golden to not only get an open shot but put Samuel in position to clean up a miss. Freshman F Alex Condon followed with a free throw, and ECU missed consecutive 3-pointers as UF ultimately prevailed.

Florida struggled immensely in the second half thanks to 7 turnovers early in the period. In fact, the Gators only led the Pirates by 1 point with less than 4 minutes remaining. Two free throws from redshirt senior point guard Zyon Pullin gave Florida some cushion prior to the game-ending sequence. Other than Samuel’s dunk, Florida went 1 of 9 from the field over the last 7:26 and only 10 of 29 overall in the second half. The Gators were pitiful in all phases, going 1 of 10 from downtown and 12 of 22 from the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes while posting an 11-4 turnover disparity.

First half focus: Back and forth for most of the opening period, Florida pulled away down the stretch with a 10-3 run on the back of 8 points from Clayton, who carried the Gators with 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting in the period. UF led by 11 points at that juncture but only took a 37-30 lead into the break.

Exceptional efforts: None. That may sound strange given Clayton finished with a game-high 22 points, but he was a total non-factor in the second half (2 points, 1/3 FGs) after scoring 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting to start the game, and he had 5 turnovers in the contest. Samuel did his damage in the second half with 9 of 11 points and 5 of 7 rebounds coming in the latter period, but he also had 3 turnovers and shot just 5 of 9 from the free-throw line. Pullin matched him with 11 points but finished 4 of 15, while Condon had 12 boards but went just 1 of 5 from the field with 8 points.

Time to worry: Sophomore G Riley Kugel is cooler than cool … he’s ice cold. Kugel was pulled in the second half with 4 turnovers, 6 rebounds and 2 points on 1 of 6 shooting in 23 minutes. He is now 7 of 27 from the field and 1 of 10 from downtown with 18 points, 13 rebounds and 10 turnovers combined over the last three contests. Out of 10 games he’s played this season, Kugel only has three positive performances where he scored efficiently and protected the ball.

Odds & ends: Florida won the first matchup with ECU and improved to 51-29 all-time against AAC opponents … this was UF’s first game in Lakeland since 2016 (and it should never return) … the Gators have registered a 20-point scorer in eight of 10 games this season … Florida is 6-1 when leading at the half, 7-0 when leading with 5 minutes left, 6-2 when outrebounding an opponent, 7-1 when attempting more free throws and 6-1 when winning the bench scoring battle this season … the Gators improved to 3-2 when committing more turnovers than an opponent, 3-3 when shooting worse than 45% from the field and 3-3 when shooting worse than an opponent from 3-point range

What it means: Nothing good. Careless passing, abhorrent ball security, inefficient shooting and a mind-bogglingly poor effort at the free-throw line should have cost Florida this game. Really the only positive coming out if it is that the Gators, ranked 30th in KenPom and a 15.5-point favorite entering the contest, survived a Pirates team ranked 204th in KenPom.

Most of Florida’s statistics paint the picture of a team that should have won this game by 20 points. The Gators dominated the glass with a 51-32 rebounding edge (21-10 offensive), outscored the Pirates 20-4 on the fastbreak and won scoring battles on second chances (16-9), off the bench (19-10) and in the paint (38-32). And yet, UF went 5 of 20 from long range and 15 of 28 from the line with 18 turnovers. That’s losing basketball against almost any other opponent.

What’s next? Florida will conclude its month stretch playing almost entirely away from home when it faces Michigan on Tuesday in Charlotte. The 2023 Jumpman Invitational showdown will tip off at 7 p.m. ET and air live nationally on ESPN.

How are the women doing? The Gators fell to 6-3 on the season after once again faltering — in stunning fashion — late on the road. Florida was outscored 20-8 in the fourth quarter at Tulsa on its way to a 72-64 defeat. UF has now been doubled up 48-24 in its last two fourth quarters despite leading by 9 points against Marshall and 4 points against Tulsa entering those periods.

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