ST. LOUIS — Another season. Another early exit for Florida in the SEC Tournament.
For the second straight year, the No. 23 Gators were unable to take advantage of a double bye in the event. Behind 27 points from senior guard Jaylen Barford, six-seed Arkansas knocked off the third-seeded Gators 80-72 on Friday at the Scottrade Center.
Florida hasn’t reached the semifinals of the SEC Tournament since 2014, the year the Gators last won the event. Playing on a six-day layoff, Florida looked rusty at times and reverted to taking questionable shots and enduring defensive lapses.
“Sometimes it can be a good thing, sometimes it can be a bad thing,” Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza said. “I guess it was a bad thing for us. We had a good flow going, we were really getting after it on the defensive end. The time off, we thought it would be better, more fresher getting a couple of guys back that had bumps and bruises. It was the opposite. We came out low on energy.”
Now, the Gators will await Selection Sunday to find out their seed and NCAA Tournament destination. At 20-12, Florida could drop to a 6 or 7 seed due to the early exit. But UF’s 10 Quadrant 1 wins will weigh heavily in the discussion as to where UF is seeded. The loss snapped UF’s three-game win streak and an eight-game win streak against the Razorbacks that dated back to 2013.
“We were coming off the best stretch of performances that we put together all year and tonight we took a step backward,” Florida coach Mike White said. “We’ve got to find a way to get home and regroup and find our mojo, get back to where we were playing our last three games.”
After a layup by Florida freshman guard Mike Okauru cut Arkansas lead to 50-48 with 10:00 left, the Razorbacks took control of the game with a 12-0 run. Barford scored six points during the run, including a 3-pointer that put the Razorbacks up 62-48 with 5:04 left.
“He scored on whoever was guarding him,” White said. “He scored off ball screens. He scored off step-back jumpers against our bigs … played like a first-team guard both offensively and defensively. Two games this year he has dominated us.”
Redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone led three UF scorers in double figures with 22 points. Chiozza added 16 points and 6 assists, becoming the 54th player in UF history to reach 1,000 career points. But guards Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov struggled, going a combined 4 of 20 from the floor.
“We weren’t the same team that we have been,” Hudson said.
Arkansas shot 53.6 percent from the field in the second half and 46.7 percent from the field for the game. It was the most points Florida has allowed since falling 83-66 to Florida State on Dec. 4.
“We had a couple of breakdowns, but we still should have fought like we did in past games,” Stone said. “We should have tightened up on defense. Just because we missed shots doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have played defense.”
Florida got off to a hot start, making four of its first seven shots from the field and 3 of its first 5 3-point attempts. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Chiozza and Koulechov and a driving layup from Stone gave Florida an early 18-10 lead.
But Arkansas charged back, cutting UF’s lead to 21-20 on a 3-pointer by Barford that clanged off both the backboard and rim before falling through the basket.
From there, Florida regrouped, going back up 29-23 on a 3-pointer by Okauru with 4:54 left in the first half. It would be UF’s last basket of the first half. Florida missed its final five attempts from the field and were whistled for two shot clock violations in some ugly halfcourt sets. Overall, Florida had three shot clock violations in the first half.
Arkansas took advantage, closing the half on an 8-0 run to take a 30-29 lead into halftime. All four baskets from Arkansas came inside, which including a Gafford putback dunk and a layin by Adrio Bailey that gave Arkansas the halftime lead.
Florida finished the first half shooting 44 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from 3-point range (7-15).
“We were doing a good job against their man with our guards, getting shots and creating shots for other people,” Chiozza said. “So they went to a zone, a matchup zone, we had trouble finding people, moving the ball around, got kinda stagnant.”
Hudson, UF’s leading scorer at 15.8 points per game, was unable to get on track early. He missed both of his attempts from the field, both of his free throw attempts and sat the final 8:02 of the first half after picking up his second foul.
Freshman center Daniel Gafford added 16 points and 12 rebounds for Arkansas (23-10). The Razorbacks outrebounded Florida 43-28 and outscored the Gators 18-15 in second chance points. The Razorbacks will move on to face 2nd seed Tennessee in the SEC Tournament semifinals at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday on ESPN.
“Second half, I thought we came out with great intensity,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “I thought we came out with focus on defense and doing the little things, the details of rebounding the basketball and getting to 3-point shooters.”
|ARKANSAS 80, No. 23 FLORIDA 72|
Bailey 1-2 0-0 2, Gafford 8-11 0-0 16, Macon 2-9 8-10 13, Beard 3-6 2-4 10, Barford 9-17 5-6 27, Cook 2-4 0-2 4, Osabuohien 0-2 0-0 0, Hall 2-4 1-2 6, Thompson 1-3 0-0 2, Jones 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 28-60 16-24 80.
Hayes 2-3 0-0 4, Hudson 2-9 0-2 6, Allen 4-11 1-3 11, Koulechov 2-11 2-2 8, Chiozza 5-11 4-4 16, Bassett 0-0 0-0 0, Stone 8-10 2-3 22, Gak 0-0 0-0 0, Ballard 0-1 0-0 0, Okauru 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 25-60 9-14 72.
Halftime_Arkansas 30-29. 3-Point Goals_Arkansas 8-18 (Barford 4-9, Beard 2-3, Hall 1-1, Macon 1-3, Jones 0-1, Osabuohien 0-1), Florida 13-31 (Stone 4-5, Chiozza 2-4, Hudson 2-5, Allen 2-6, Koulechov 2-7, Okauru 1-3, Ballard 0-1). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Arkansas 40 (Gafford 12), Florida 27 (Koulechov 6). Assists_Arkansas 8 (Macon, Beard 3), Florida 13 (Chiozza 6). Total Fouls_Arkansas 16, Florida 21. A_14,596 (21,000).