SUNRISE — Florida coach Mike White summed up UF’s inexplicable 71-69 loss to Clemson at the Orange Bowl Classic succinctly.
“We are not the most mentally tough team,” White said. “We’ve seen it time and time again. We need to grow in that area.”
The Gators were seemingly in control of the game, up 66-57 on a driving layup by Jalen Hudson with 5:40 left. But bad shots and porous defense doomed Florida down the stretch, as Clemson closed the game with a 14-3 run to steal the win.
The biggest gaffe came with under a minute remaining. Florida took a 68-67 lead on a heads-up steal and layup along the baseline by Chris Chiozza with 1:23 left. Then, Keith Stone and Kevarrius Hayes combined for a blocked shot, with Stone getting the rebound on a missed drive by Clemson guard Marquise Reed.
But with 40 seconds left, Florida junior guard KeVaughn Allen launched a long 3-point attempt late in the shot clock. Reed grabbed the rebound, then threw a pass downcourt to wide open Clemson center Elijah Thomas, who made the go-ahead dunk to put Clemson back ahead 69-68.
“They did a great job and forced a tough (shot),” White said. “Everybody has floor balance rules. We know what ours are. The guy whose job it was in the locker room raised his hand and said my bad. I’d rather not say who that is.”
Said Florida junior guard Jalen Hudson: “We were kind of scrambling for the ball, we were kind of desperate and went to get the ball. We didn’t sprint back like we were all supposed to.”
Florida still had a chance to regain the lead, but Allen missed an open 3-point attempt from the right wing with 7.4 seconds left to conclude a 5-for-13 night from the floor. Reed made two free throws. Hudson was fouled on purpose with 2.4 seconds left and Clemson up 71-68. Hudson made the first free throw, missed the second but Hayes was unable to secure the rebound ahead of Clemson forward David Skara, who was fouled. Skara missed both free throws but Egor Koulechov wasn’t able to even get a halfcourt heave off in time as time expired.
The No. 22 Gators (6-4) have now lost four of five and will likely tumble out of the rankings this week. The loss, before 9,152 at the BB&T Center, also snapped a seven-game win streak in Orange Bowl Classic games. UF’s last Orange Bowl Classic defeat was a 56-53 decision to Richmond on Dec. 19, 2009.
“We some made mistakes down the stretch,” Hudson said. “They capitalized on every mistake we made. We had some fouls that they converted on. We had 10 fouls early in the second half so every foul that we had they were able to convert on. They were getting shots for it. They guarded us without fouling.”
Clemson got into the bonus at the 14:18 mark of the second half when Chiozza fouled guard Mike DeVoe. As a result, Clemson went to the free throw line 22 times in the second half and 30 times for the game. Clemson shot 66.7 percent from the foul like (20-30), compared to UF’s season-low 52.9 percent (9-17).
“We couldn’t get stops throughout the whole second half,” White said. “They drove on us at will, lived at the foul line. That’s kind of who we’ve been.”
Clemson coach Brad Brownell said winning the free-throw battle was a priority for the Tigers (9-1).
“We did a lot of things to try to post the ball and get fouled,” Brownell said. “We are a team that doesn’t foul that much. We practice not fouling. I call fouls in practice and the guys do not like it. Every year, we are one of the teams that foul the least in our league.”
Hudson led three UF scorers in double-figures with 23 points. Chiozza added 14 points and 3 assists, while Allen had 12 points and 3 assists. Reed had 22 points and 6 assists for Clemson to earn game MVP honors.
Hudson scored UF’s first 12 points, a stretch that included a pair of 3-pointers, a driving dunk and a bank shot, giving UF an early 12-9 lead. Allen then followed with a hot stretch, hitting a pair of 3-pointers while scoring eight straight points to give Florida a 20-16 lead.
The Gators maintained a slim lead for the rest of the half. After a Gabe DeVoe’s 3-pointer cut UF’s lead to 34-33, the Gators closed the half with a 6-0 run. A putback dunk by sophomore center Gorjok Gak put Florida up 37-33. Then, after Clemson was whistled for an offensive foul, Koulechov hit a step-away 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer, putting the Gators up 40-33 at halftime.
A 3-pointer from Hudson gave Florida its biggest lead, 47-35, with 17:24 left. But Florida was unable to put Clemson away. The Gators shot just 37.5 percent from the field in the second half and went 3 of 11 from 3-point range in the second half.
“We’re still kind of making the same mistakes we’ve made since early November,” Hudson said. “We’ve just got to get better. I thought we fought. I thought we played hard. I thought we took really good shots. I thought we played together. We’ve just got to stop making the same mistakes game after game.”
FREE THROWS: The Gators fell to 0-2 this season in games decided by 5 points or less and 0-3 against ACC teams. … No. 19 Florida State dropped the opening Orange Bowl Classic game to Oklahoma State 71-70, marking the first time since 1999 that both host teams lost in the event.
|CLEMSON 71, No. 22 FLORIDA 69|
Grantham 4-8 3-4 11, Thomas 2-8 0-0 4, Mitchell 3-7 4-7 10, Reed 6-8 9-11 22, DeVoe 6-12 4-6 19, Simms 0-0 0-0 0, Skara 0-0 0-2 0, Donnal 1-2 0-0 3, Trapp 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-46 20-30 71.
Stone 1-1 0-0 3, Allen 5-13 0-0 12, Koulechov 2-8 2-2 8, Hudson 7-18 5-9 23, Chiozza 6-12 1-2 14, Hayes 1-2 0-0 2, Gak 1-3 1-4 3, Okauru 0-0 0-0 0, Ballard 2-5 0-0 4. Totals 25-62 9-17 69.
Halftime_Florida 40-33. 3-Point Goals_Clemson 5-12 (DeVoe 3-7, Reed 1-2, Donnal 1-2, Mitchell 0-1), Florida 10-24 (Hudson 4-8, Koulechov 2-5, Allen 2-8, Stone 1-1, Chiozza 1-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Clemson 31 (Thomas 10), Florida 34 (Koulechov 9). Assists_Clemson 11 (Reed 6), Florida 8 (Allen, Chiozza 3). Total Fouls_Clemson 17, Florida 21.