DALLAS — Florida tried to keep its season alive before a raucous crowd in its Round of 32 NCAA Tournament matchup with Texas Tech at the American Airlines Center.
But senior All-American Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans and the three-seeded Red Raiders had other plans Saturday.
Evans scored 22 points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:31 remaining, lifting Texas Tech to a 69-66 win over the sixth-seeded Gators.
After coming up with a steal off a Texas Tech in-bounds play with 14 seconds left, Florida had two chances to tie. But senior guard Egor Koulechov missed an open 3-point attempt. Then, off a loose ball scramble, junior guard KeVaughn Allen was able to get a 3-point attempt off that clanged off the back iron before time expired.
“They are a terrific team,” Florida coach Mike White said. “They made big plays, they made the plays down the stretch, of course, and got the defensive stop when they needed one …
“Tough deal for us. I thought we played well enough to have a chance.”
The loss ended UF’s up-and-down season at 21-13 and ended a string of five straight NCAA Tournament appearances in which it at least made the Elite Eight.
Evans put Texas Tech (26-9) ahead to stay 67-64 with a 3-pointer with 2:31 remaining. After Koulechov air-balled a 3-point attempt, Texas Tech regained possession, and went up 69-64 when Evans found teammate Zhaire Smith for an alley-oop dunk with 38.6 seconds left.
Senior point guard Chris Chiozza cut Texas Tech’s lead to 69-66 with a driving layup, then Florida came up with a steal on a Texas Tech in-bounds, but after that, UF’s magic ran out.
“It’s tough to go out that way,” Chiozza said. “I don’t think it’s fully hit me yet. As soon as the buzzer sounded, I felt it a little bit, but so far, I don’t think it’s fully hit me yet that my college career is over.
“But we had a couple of games like this where if we could have made a shot, a couple of times we had a couple of big shots earlier in the season, and we just couldn’t get that one to go down.”
White had one timeout remaining and could have called it after the steal on the in bounds, but didn’t want Texas Tech to allow to get its defense set.
“They’re terrific defensively and we had a good offensive lineup out there,” White said. “The ball is in Chris Chiozza’s hands with the floor spread, and I’m not sure we could have drawn up anything better in a couple seconds. I’m pleased with those looks, of course. I thought Keith Stone made a great decision, he got a tough rebound and hit KeVaughn and unfortunately they didn’t go for us.”
Koulechov said he felt like he had a good enough look on the first of the two missed final 3-point attempts. The Gators finished the game 6 of 22 from 3-point range and made just 2 of 9 from beyond the arc in the second half.
“I bobbled the ball a little bit, and then I saw the guy fall down and kind of trip,” Koulechov said. “That threw me off. It was a good look. I had a good look earlier, too, with the shot clock winding down. You know, sometimes you hit those shots. I didn’t come though for my team today, but you know, just how it is sometimes.”
Junior guard Jalen Hudson led three UF scorers in double figures with 23 points. Koulechov added 12 points and Chiozza had 11 points and three assists while dealing with foul trouble.
Florida’s chances for a win didn’t look promising when Texas Tech went up 40-35 on a wide-open Jarrett Culver layup. White than had a chat with officials to discuss the foul disparity, which at the time was 10 for Florida compared to 2 for Texas Tech.
But Hudson then hit an open 3-pointer to cut Texas Tech’s lead to 40-38. Then Stone had a putback tip in to tie the score at 40. Florida went ahead 43-40 when Hudson converted a three-point play, capping an 8-0 UF run.
Foul trouble, though, plagued the Gators throughout the second half. Hudson picked up his third foul early in the second half and then had to sit for close to a five-minute stretch.
Chiozza then got his fourth foul with 13:23 remaining, making contact with former Gator guard Brandone Francis while trying to chase down a long rebound off a missed 3-point attempt. White was stuck with a dilemma of how long to sit Chiozza, UF’s best defender, passer and ballhandler.
“That was part of our gameplan,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “We always try to attack the opposing team’s best players.”
By the time Chiozza returned to the game with 7:53 left, what was a slim 45-43 Florida lead had evaporated into an eight-point deficit when Evans completed a three-point play to put Texas Tech up 58-50.
White said he and his staff wrestled with whether to bring Chiozza back into the game sooner.
“It’s no fun dealing with foul trouble, of course, but we put ourselves in that situation,” White said.
But Florida battled back, cutting Texas Tech’s lead to 64-62 on a three-point play by Hudson with 3:29 left. Off a Texas Tech miss, the Gators then tied the score at 64 on a Koulechov layup in transition.
It was a frenzied atmosphere to start the game, with a sea of red-clad Texas Tech fans doing their Raider Power chant to start the game. The Gators countered by wearing the same orange-and-black uniforms they wore in facing a similar road-like environment in knocking off Gonzaga at the PK80 Tournament in Portland.
In the good-luck orange jerseys (the Gators entered the game 5-1 when wearing the uniforms), Florida made 9 of its first 13 shots to build an early 20-14 lead. The Gators went up 26-19 on a Koulechov 3-pointer with 9:47 left in the first half before Texas Tech went on a 10-0 run to take the lead, a run that was sparked by UF’s inability to defend the 3-point line.
Texas Tech freshman Zhaire Smith cut Florida’s lead to 26-22 with an open 3-pointer. Then another freshman guard, Culver, sank a 3-pointer to put Texas Tech up 27-26 with 5:42 left in the half.
The Gators went down 29-26 on a Culver layup in transition before rallying to reclaim the lead before halftime. An offensive rebound by Gorjok Gak led to a Koulechov layup that cut Texas Tech’s lead to 29-28. Then, with Florida down 32-31 on its final possession of the half, Chiozza missed a jumper, but Koulechov was able to bank in an offensive rebound before the first-half buzzer to put Florida up 33-32 at halftime.
The Gators shot 46.7 percent from the field in the first half and 36.4 percent (4-11) from 3-point range. Florida missed its final four 3-point attempts in the first half after starting 4-7. Texas Tech, meanwhile, went just 40.6 percent from the floor (13-32) but 50 percent (4-8) from 3-point range.
The game was the last in a Florida uniform for both Koulechov and Chiozza, who finished his career as UF’s all-time assist leader at 571. Chiozza also will be remembered in Florida lore for his game-winning 3-pointer in overtime last year against Wisconsin in overtime in the Sweet 16
“It was a fun ride,” Chiozza said. “It was wild. I had a lot of ups and downs, but you know, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. I’m glad I chose to come here and stay here with the coaching change. It was the best decision I made in my whole life.”
Note: Florida is now 44-17 (.721) all-time at the NCAA Championships.
|TEXAS TECH 69, FLORIDA 66|
Hayes 2-4 0-0 4, Chiozza 4-12 2-2 11, Koulechov 5-13 0-1 12, Allen 2-11 2-2 7, Hudson 8-16 5-8 23, Stone 3-5 1-2 7, Bassett 0-0 0-0 0, Gak 0-0 0-0 0, Ballard 0-0 0-0 0, Okauru 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 25-63 10-15 66.
|TEXAS TECH (26-9)|
Gray 1-4 1-2 3, Odiase 0-1 0-1 0, Zh.Smith 8-13 0-0 18, Culver 5-13 0-0 11, Evans 8-14 3-5 22, Hamilton 1-1 0-0 2, Za.Smith 2-2 2-3 6, Francis 1-5 0-1 2, Moretti 0-2 0-0 0, Stevenson 2-8 1-2 5. Totals 28-63 7-14 69.
Halftime_Florida 33-32. 3-Point Goals_Florida 6-22 (Hudson 2-5, Koulechov 2-8, Chiozza 1-3, Allen 1-5, Stone 0-1), Texas Tech 6-15 (Evans 3-4, Zh.Smith 2-3, Culver 1-4, Moretti 0-1, Stevenson 0-1, Francis 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Florida 37 (Stone 10), Texas Tech 32 (Zh.Smith, Culver 9). Assists_Florida 11 (Allen 4), Texas Tech 17 (Zh.Smith 7). Total Fouls_Florida 18, Texas Tech 14.