Florida Gators basketball rallies but falls in overtime to Texas A&M at SEC Tournament

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

TAMPA — Hassan Diarra’s three-pointer with four-tenths of a second remaining in overtime sent Florida to a 83-80 defeat Thursday in the second round of the SEC Tournament at Amalie Arena. 

The Gators (19-13) trailed by as many as 16 points and never led in regulation in the matchup with Texas A&M (21-11), but the Gators, their NCAA Tournament hopes hanging in the balance, didn’t fold despite the deficit.

UF closed regulation on a 17-5 run, forced overtime and took its first lead of the game with 3:34 left in the extra portion, but the Aggies would ultimately get the last look, and Diarra’s contested three rattled home to send the Gators packing. 

Kowacie Reeves was held scoreless in the first half, but finished with a career-high 21 points after an 18-point outburst in the second half. Sophomore guard Niels Lane also had a huge day, finishing with 16 points.

"We've had a ton of adversity too, that we didn't bring on ourselves, and these guys have continued to not make excuses, to fight, to work," Florida coach Mike White said. "But, yeah, we've had too many adversities in-game, too ... they're on us." 

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Here are 3 takeaways from UF’s contest.

Texas A&M Aggies guard Hassan Diarra (5) makes a game winning three pointer during overtime against the Florida Gators at Amalie Arena.

Niels Lane keeps UF afloat early

As Florida struggled early on the offensive end, Lane, who came into the game averaging just 1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds per contest throughout his sophomore season, kept the Gators within reach with a career-best performance. 

In the game’s initial 15 minutes, Lane had season-highs in points and rebounds, scoring seven of UF’s first 16 points and hauling in four of UF’s 13 rebounds. He’d hit UF’s first three-pointer of the afternoon with 2:01 remaining in the first half to reach double-digit scoring, and Lane wasn’t finished. Lane would add six points in the second half, though he was held out during overtime.

It was an above-average contribution for Lane, who cracked the lineup in late January with his hard-nosed defensive play rather than his offensive acumen. Prior to Thursday, Lane’s season-high in scoring was six points, a feat he accomplished twice during the 2021-22 regular season. 

"The fact that the ball was going in the basket for me definitely gave me a boost of confidence on the offensive end, and the defensive end," Lane said. "Me having a big game offensively today, that will definitely help me on both sides."

Florida Gators guard Niels Lane (44) dunks against the Texas A&M Aggies during the first half at Amalie Arena.

CJ Felder held out

Over the final month of the regular season, Florida junior forward CJ Felder has been battling an ailing hip, though he was able to play through his injury, albeit sparingly. Felder played just one minute in UF’s regular-season finale loss to Kentucky, and it was unknown whether or not he’d be available for UF’s matchup with the Aggies. 

Felder did make the short trip Wednesday to Tampa with the Gators, but he wasn’t dressed out when pregame shoot-around rolled around, indicating he wouldn’t be available. Anthony Duruji, who returned against the Wildcats from a two-game absence of his own, provided just two points on 1-of-5 shooting Thursday while serving as UF’s starting forward opposite Colin Castleton. Castleton, who missed Tuesday’s practice session due to illness, finished with 15 points in a team-high 41 minutes of action. 

"Our game plan from the tip was to hammer it to Colin as much as possible, for obvious reasons," White said. "We thought we had an advantage there.

"I thought they did a great job on Colin, I think it's that simple."

Rather than pin Castleton's less-than-desirable performance on UF's woes in the frontcourt, White credited the Aggies' defensive effort. 

We "just didn't do enough," he said. "I've said this after a loss a bunch, you sit there and talk about all the things that we didn't do well — Texas A&M was terrific. You kidding me, 9-of-17 from three. shots down the stretch, at the end of shot clocks. Both teams deserved to win I thought, just one of those games. So we wish them well moving forward."

Turnovers plague Gators

When Florida wasn’t sloppy with the basketball, UF was off the mark. The Gators finished the contest with 18 turnovers. 

Within the first 4:08 of the second half, UF had five turnovers to just four field-goal attempts. 

When UF wasn’t giving it away, shots were largely clanging off the rim. Florida, which hit just 3-of-20 three-point attempts Saturday against the Wildcats, saw its shooting woes continue against the Aggies. The Gators converted just 5-of-24 shots from three-point range. Rather than put the blame for the errant shots solely on UF's shoulders, White credited the Aggies' defensive pressure in forcing the Gators into low-percentage looks.

"(We faced) another high-level defense in this league. It's pretty common in this league, this year," White said. "And it will continue to move forward as the best defensive league in the country."

UF started 1-of-15 from beyond the arc before Kowacie Reeves Jr., who finished with 21 points in 28 minutes, knocked down Florida’s second long-range attempt with 9:46 to play in regulation. Reeves' hot shooting helped force overtime. 

After the game, White once again lampooned Florida's miscues and misfires that made the rally a requirement, acknowledging they've been issues throughout the season. 

"A two-hour microcosm of the season," White said. "Ups, downs, a lack of execution for a couple minutes, incredible fight for eight minutes. A really productive timeout, a span where we lose a little bit of focus, lose control of our emotions a little bit, and then leave everything we have on the floor and come up just a little bit short. We've had four or five where we got the other ending, and we came out on the right side. Unfortunately we've come out on the wrong side too many times." 

Florida now will wait until Selection Sunday at 6 p.m. to find out its NCAA fate.