Reeling Florida looks to right course by closing out foes

Florida forward Dontay Bassett looks to pass the ball past Tennessee forward Derrick Walker during Saturday's game at the O'Connell Center. [Matt Stamey/Associated Press]

Once again, the Florida men’s basketball team let a one-possession lead become a double-digit deficit, much to the dismay of coach Mike White.

With Tuesday night presenting another opportunity, when the Gators take on No. 24 Mississippi State at 7 p.m. in Starkville, to pick up a win in league play over a ranked foe, White is hoping for an impassioned response from his “somber” Gators.

“I think that’s a big problem of ours — I’m not sure we have much frustration. I’m not sure how important it is, and if there is it’s not communicated (to me). Trying to muster up the competitiveness. I’d rather our guys get really ticked off; I’d rather them get ticked off at me,” White said. “Just a really somber group at timeouts, in film sessions. We’ve got too much apathy — not from everybody, but from too many guys.”

It’s no secret the Gators, sitting at 9-6 and in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2015-16 season, can ill afford to continue squandering opportunities in the latter half of the season, as they did Saturday night in the team’s most significant home game to date this season.

After Noah Locke gave the Gators a three-point lead over No. 3 Tennessee with 6:13 to play, the Volunteers closed the contest on an 18-5 run in claiming a double-digit win.

Redshirt sophomore Dontay Bassett — whom White deemed “a fighter” after providing seven points and three rebounds in 22 minutes Saturday — admitted the Gators have inexplicably struggled with closing games this season. And, although White may not see it in games or in practice, Bassett claims the team is frustrated, too.

“We’re pretty frustrated, because we think down the stretch we beat ourselves,” Bassett said. “(We need to) just try and stay focused down the stretch, try not to watch the clock. In SEC games, you got to take the games, and I think some of these last couple of games we’re just waiting for the time to run out, trying to hope we win the game.”

Fortunately for the Gators, they’re facing a reeling Mississippi State team, one that squandered late leads in its first two SEC contests.

The Bulldogs (12-3, 0-2 SEC) clawed back from a seven-point deficit and had an opportunity to beat South Carolina in regulation, but Lamar Peters’ lay-up couldn’t break the deadlock. Instead, the Gamecocks turned the tide and emerged victorious in overtime, snapping the Bulldogs’ nine-game winning streak in the process.

And things got worse from there over the weekend in Starkville, as MSU let rival Ole Miss erase a nine-point second-half lead for a 81-77 win.

In short, the Bulldogs are reeling, too — meaning Tuesday’s contest may be decided by whichever program is motivated by recent frustration and defeat.

Long-term success, however, is a different story for the Gators.

“We’ve tried a lot of stuff. We’ve tried going really, really short and have guys just feel great about their legs and bodies. We’ve tried going four hours. We’ve tried film and no film, from being really, really positive to being very, very challenging. All these other guys are doing the same thing we’re doing. It’s trial and error,” White said. “You go through a team and you try to figure which buttons work with your current team, your current individuals. We haven’t found the right button or buttons. Not that we’re a Top-10 team that’s underperforming, I’m not saying that. But I do feel like some of these games, a few of these, a couple of these if I’m pressing the right buttons, we would have gotten and we haven’t. So I’ve got to figure it out.”


Today

Who: Florida (9-6, 1-2 SEC) vs. No. 24 Mississippi State (12-3, 0-2)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida

Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 6.8 ppg; 6.0 rpg

Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 7.1 ppg; 2.5 rpg

Jalen Hudson; G; 6-6; Sr.; 6.5 ppg ;2.8 rpg

KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 11.3 ppg; 2.7 rpg

Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 10.4 ppg; 2.7 3FG

Mississippi State

Abdul Ado; F; 6-11; RSo.; 5.8 ppg; 5.4 rpg

Aric Holman; F; 6-10; Sr.; 12.7 ppg; 8.4 rpg

Nick Weatherspoon; G; 6-2; So.; 10.7 ppg; 2.5 rpg

Lamar Peters; G; 6-0; Jr.; 13.5 ppg; 6.1 apg

Quinndary Weatherspoon; G; 6-4; Sr.; 17.1 ppg; 5.7 rpg

Notes: The Gators travel to Mississippi State for their lone meeting this season vs. the Bulldogs … UF is looking to extend its 8-game winning streak in the series … Noah Locke and KeVaughn Allen have stepped up their production in SEC play, as Allen has tallied 15.3 points and Locke 14.3 per game during conference action … Florida leads the SEC in scoring defense (61.2; 11th nationally), ranks 2nd in in turnover margin (+4.4) and 3rd in 3-point defense (.303) … Freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard ranks 4th in the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.8), while Locke rates 2nd in 3-point field goal percentage (.426) and 5th in 3-pointers made per game (2.7). Allen sits 5th in free throw percentage (.844) … Florida’s defense ranks 6th in KenPom defensive efficiency and the Gators have held 6 foes to 56 points or fewer … Florida has held 3 opponents — West Virginia, Butler and Arkansas — more than 30 points below their season scoring average entering the meeting. The Gators have held 7 major conference opponents to at least 19 points under the team’s scoring average entering the contest.

— Graham Hall

Graham Hall :