It was clear in the aftermath of Florida’s 78-71 loss to Mississippi State – the team’s third loss in as many tries – that the Gators have reached a season low.
After leading by as many as 16 points Tuesday at the O’Connell Center and taking a double-digit lead into halftime, the Gators appeared well on their way to a bounce-back win following losses at LSU and against top-ranked Baylor at the O-Dome.
UF coach Mike White admitted what ensued left him with a pit in his stomach.
Florida found itself outscored 43-26 in the second half, thanks to a dominant performance from Reggie Perry, one of the SEC’s most improved players this season. Perry scored 10 of his career-high 27 points in the second half – a period that saw the Bulldogs shoot 61 percent from the field.
For the Gators, it was another reminder that the team, which began the season amid lofty expectations and talks of one-and-done, had strayed further off course.
“Just mental lapses and lack of focus coming out in the second half,” said freshman Scottie Lewis, who scored a career-high 17 points. “That’s something that we can fix. You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, Coach White and our staff have seen it. When we’re 100-percent focused at all points in the game, we’re pretty dangerous. And we all know that.”
Having wrapped January’s slate of games with a .500 mark, and with three of their next four SEC games coming on the road, the Gators are running out of time to correct the issues – and with a roster largely reliant on underclassmen, there’s no telling if rectification is even possible before the season’s up.
“I think it just comes down to comfortability. It’s just biting your tongue and asking yourself ‘Do you really want to win?’, you know? Before we went out, Andrew (Nembhard) and I talked about, to the team, taking every moment for granted and not taking a possession off, because obviously you don’t know if we’re promised tomorrow, and play every game like it’s your last, because it may be,” Lewis said. “I think with everything that’s going on this week, that’s something that’s a point of emphasis for us right now, which is taking everything serious. I think we had that in our minds the first half, and the second half we got comfortable.”
Considering the Gators have now lost 40 percent of their contests, the fact his team could be comfortable heading into a decisive February slate is troublesome for Florida’s coaching staff.
With no clear-cut solution at hand just yet, White has little choice but to continue searching for UF’s second-half pulse.
“Our defensive numbers are not very pretty, and they’re getting uglier every day. And it’s being communicated very clearly. We made common mistakes today that don’t allow for success against high-level teams,” White said. “But most of all, just our defensive energy that we exhibited early second half. Whether you score or not, and they throw that thing up to (Nick) Weatherspoon and he sprints past three or four of our guys and it leads to a dunk – we’re not playing hard enough. We’re a team, where we don’t play extremely hard right now, but I’ve seen us do it. So that’s what we’ve got to figure out.”