Looking to bolster their NCAA Tournament hopes, the Florida Gators hardly resembled a basketball team coming off of a 16-point win on the road.
Beleaguered Georgia led for nearly the entire game before claiming its second conference win Saturday with a 61-55 undoing of Florida at the Exactech Arena in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, in turn snapping the Gators season-best five-game winning streak.
“I thought Georgia was more deserving, for sure. Which is a shame,” UF coach Mike White said. “We didn’t give ourselves a chance.”
Florida (17-12, 9-7 SEC) trailed for nearly the entire first half while the Bulldogs, who had lost the last four games by just a combined nine points, had little trouble scoring inside with sophomore forward Nicholas Claxton, who scored a career-high 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting, leading the charge.
With Georgia (11-18, 2-14 SEC) clutching a slim one-point lead just three minutes until the halftime break, freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard, who leads UF in minutes per game this season, fell to the floor and came up clutching his lower back. He would head to the locker room and be diagnosed with back spasms, although the Ontario, Canada, native was out on the floor after halftime. In his absence, however, his teammates managed to break through, albeit momentarily, as UF claimed a one-point lead, its first advantage of the night, on the final shot of the period, a Mike Okauru 3-pointer. Much of the credit in turning the tide before the break went to Florida’s defense, as 15 of UF’s 28 points in the first half came off of Georgia turnovers.
With Florida’s offense stagnant coming out of the locker room, the Gators worked to get shooting guard KeVaughn Allen going early after the halftime break. But when Florida needed a basket, the possession seemingly ended in a turnover or contested shot more often than not, as Allen would finish with just five points on 1-for-10 shooting.
“You just have to be really aware that they’re going to go to him,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said of Allen. “We were very cognizant of where he was the entire night.”
From there, Florida’s offensive woes only continued.
After freshman Noah Locke hit a 3-pointer with 13:54 to play, the Gators wouldn’t score again from the field for nearly nine minutes.
“I feel like there was energy, but it wasn’t focused,” UF senior center Kevarrius Hayes said. “Not enough discipline. Falling for shot fakes, getting backdoored. I feel the energy was good, but still have to have the focus and discipline.”
Despite the drop-off on the offensive end, Florida still had opportunities late; yet the Gators, who entered the night ranked 10th in the country in defensive efficiency, couldn’t stop the Dawgs when it mattered most, as Georgia would convert its final five shot attempts.
Jalen Hudson, who scored a team-high 13 points, albeit on 4-for-13 shooting, converted from long-range with under two minutes to play to cut Georgia’s lead to 55-53. But Claxton would convert twice in the paint to keep UGA in front for the remainder of the contest.
The Gators will wrap up the home slate Wednesday at 7 p.m. against LSU in what will serve as Senior Night for Allen, Hayes and Hudson.
“As a staff, we had immense concern coming into this one,” said White, who turned 42 Saturday. “They’re coming in having lost these past four, all one-possession games, against NCAA Tournament teams. If they continued to play that way, they were bound to break through. Unfortunately, it was against us.”
|GEORGIA 61, FLORIDA 55|
Claxton 9-12 5-5 25, Ogbeide 2-3 1-2 5, Harrison 2-3 0-0 4, Harris 3-6 3-4 9, Jackson 2-8 2-2 6, Hammonds 0-0 0-0 0, Wilridge 3-3 0-1 6, Ngumezi 0-0 0-0 0, Fagan 1-1 0-0 3, Crump 1-5 0-0 3. Totals 23-41 11-14 61.
Johnson 2-5 2-2 6, Hayes 4-5 0-2 8, Allen 1-10 2-2 5, Nembhard 2-6 4-4 8, Locke 3-7 0-0 7, Stokes 0-0 2-2 2, Bassett 1-1 0-0 2, Okauru 1-1 1-2 4, Hudson 4-13 3-4 13, Ballard 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-48 14-18 55.
Halftime_Florida 28-27. 3-Point Goals_Georgia 4-10 (Claxton 2-2, Fagan 1-1, Crump 1-4, Harris 0-1, Jackson 0-2), Florida 5-21 (Hudson 2-5, Okauru 1-1, Locke 1-5, Allen 1-6, Johnson 0-1, Nembhard 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Georgia 19 (Harrison, Ogbeide 5), Florida 27 (Hayes 6). Assists_Georgia 10 (Harris 4), Florida 10 (Allen, Nembhard 4). Total Fouls_Georgia 19, Florida 12.