Mike White wasn’t happy. His eyes darted around the room and his fingers tapped incessantly on the microphone stand in the interview room inside the O’Connell Center.
The Florida coach had just watched his basketball team lose to No. 10 Michigan State 63-59 in a game where the Gators almost always played from behind, but still had a chance to win at the end.
That Florida rallied was the good news. That it failed to do the little things necessary to win left White with a bad case of the frustration blues. Especially because of what happened at the end.
“We didn’t get on the floor for that loose ball like several others and they did,” he said. “We didn’t deserve to win.
“A lot of things didn’t go well, but if we get a few more loose balls by doing what we’re supposed to do with an unbelievable environment and crowd, we’re probably sitting here as winners.”
Florida had cut the lead to two when Michigan State lost the ball on a drive and both Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone had a shot at it. Instead, Michigan State’s Kyle Ahrens found the ball and waltzed to the basket for a dunk as the shot clock expired.
Ahrens scored all seven of his points in the last three minutes of the game and his dunk pretty much ended things with 8.7 seconds to go.
“It’s unacceptable,” White said. “We took a step back today. I’d like for them to get frustrated by this. I’m not sure they are. It’s insane.”
There were other problems for the Gators as a crowd of 10,423 got louder as the clock rolled into the final minutes and a handful of Gator football players in full uniform stood cheering on the south end of the O-Dome.
But the one play is the one that will be most difficult to forget.
“It’s on me,” Hayes said. “I should have gone to the floor. You gotta make the big play there.”
Florida got a stellar performance from freshman Andrew Nembhard with 13 points and three assists, but the Gators had no answers for the Spartans’ inside game.
Michigan State scored 36 points in the paint and what was especially frustrating for White was that the Spartans started the second half with two easy layups by Nick Ward (13 points) forcing White to call a timeout.
“We came out with no energy,” White said. “I don’t know how that’s possible.”
White finds himself with a team that is at a crossroads at 5-4 and more than a week off to try to figure things out. The Gators have missed multiple opportunities to pad their resume, but have fallen short too many times.
“They’re gonna win some games,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. “They’ll bounce back.”
Izzo was less than thrilled with his own team’s performance, citing weariness from a schedule that has seen the Spartans (8-2) play six games in 17 days.
“We made some critically dumb plays and they made some good ones,” Izzo said. “I’m going to take this win and get out of here.”
Nembhard and KeVaughn Allen led UF in scoring with 13 each, but Allen needed 15 shots to get those points. He missed a forced late layup with Florida down two and 54 seconds left that Michigan State rebounded and called timeout. Nembhard was called for a foul with 29 seconds to play to set up the most crucial play in the game.
Florida continued to struggle with offense, going 7:48 in the first half without a field goal. The Gators finished the game shooting 36.5 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point land (missing 18 of 24).
“We’re not a very good offensive team,” White said. “We have good offensive pieces, though, and I believe we’ll become a good offensive team. But in the meantime, we can’t take steps backward defensively.”
Michigan State had four players in double figures led by big man Xavier Tillman’s 14 on 6-of-7 shooting. Tillman also had nine rebounds.
Up next: Florida takes a break for final exams before returning to the O’Connell Center on Dec. 18 to face Mercer at 8 p.m. on the SEC Network.
|No. 10 MICHIGAN ST. 63, FLORIDA 59|
|MICHIGAN ST. (8-2)|
Ward 6-8 1-1 13, Goins 1-5 0-0 3, Winston 4-11 2-2 10, Langford 5-13 2-2 13, Ahrens 3-5 0-0 7, Henry 0-1 0-0 0, Tillman 6-7 2-3 14, McQuaid 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 26-51 7-8 63.
Stone 3-10 1-2 8, Hayes 1-5 4-5 6, Nembhard 6-12 0-0 13, Allen 5-15 0-0 13, Locke 1-3 0-0 2, K.Johnson 3-7 0-0 6, Bassett 1-3 0-1 2, Stokes 0-2 0-0 0, Hudson 1-3 2-4 4, Okauru 0-0 0-0 0, Ballard 2-3 0-0 5. Totals 23-63 7-12 59.
Halftime_Michigan St. 35-27. 3-Point Goals_Michigan St. 4-17 (McQuaid 1-1, Goins 1-3, Ahrens 1-3, Langford 1-6, Winston 0-4), Florida 6-24 (Allen 3-9, Ballard 1-1, Nembhard 1-4, Stone 1-5, Hudson 0-1, Locke 0-1, Bassett 0-1, K.Johnson 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Michigan St. 32 (Tillman 9), Florida 29 (Stone, Hayes 7). Assists_Michigan St. 14 (Winston 6), Florida 7 (Nembhard 3). Total Fouls_Michigan St. 11, Florida 12.