Florida Gators' ever-erratic play bounces them out of the SEC Tournament | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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The Florida Gators won basketball games that seemed lost this season. They lost games that seemed won.

They picked a bad time to do the latter on Thursday.

The game against Texas A&M seemed hopelessly lost for 35 minutes. Then just when it seemed Florida would win it, the Aggies won on a last-second shot in overtime.

So long, NCAA Tournament. The next stop for those fans on the Gators’ rollercoaster is likely the NIT.

After four straight NCAA bids, the NIT doesn’t exactly indicate the program is on the upswing. We’ll see how it that plays out with Coach Mike White’s job status in the coming days.

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

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Gators go out in fittingly frustrating fashion

On Thursday, it was confusing enough just trying to figure out what happened in Tampa. Which means it was a perfectly fitting way for the season to go up in smoke.

You never knew what you were going to get in this season, other than Colin Castleton would probably be good for a double-double.

The Aggies made him all but disappear for most of the game. Up stepped unlikely heroes like Niels Lane and Kowacie Reeves to seemingly save the day.

There was plenty of resiliency and excitement from the Gators, not to mention 18 turnovers. But in the end, there wasn’t enough clutch shooting, rebounding or defense.

Florida Gators head coach Mike White looks on against the Texas A&M Aggies during the first half at Amalie Arena.

“A two-hour microcosm of the season,” White said in what sounded like a eulogy. “Ups. Downs. A lack of execution for a couple or minutes. Incredible fight for eight minutes….”

He went on, analyzing a game Florida fans have seen too many versions of.

The Gators came out inexcusably flat against a motivated opponent. That made no sense when it happened in a December home loss to lowly Texas Southern.

It made even less sense Thursday.

For all the season’s gyrations, the Gators still controlled their NCAA Tournament destiny. All they needed was to slip past the Aggies and shock Auburn in the second round.

The chances of hitting that quinella weren’t good, but it wouldn’t have been the first time UF beat some long odds. But instead of coming out with their hair on fire, it was as if they’d just pulled their heads out of a bucket of ice water.

“We came out like lackadaisical. We just didn’t play good at all,” Castleton said. “We did that couple times this year.”

Comebacks are UF's calling card

Actually, they did at least a dozen. But one thing you can say about this team is that it doesn’t give up. Florida won seven games in which it trailed by nine or more points.

They got down 16 Thursday, thanks in no small part to Texas A&M’s defense. Florida was determined to feed the ball to Castleton, but the shorter Aggies were more determined to deny him an inch of maneuvering room.

“High-level physicality,” is how White described it.

Texas A&M didn’t let Castleton set up near the basket. Defenders swarmed him when he stepped out to get the ball.

UF needed some good outside shooting to loosen things up. Except for a few spurts, that need was rarely met this season.

The Gators hit 3 of 20 3-pointers in last Saturday’s loss to Kentucky. They were 0-for-7 Thursday before Lane hit a 3-pointer.

Yes, the same Niels Lane who came in averaging 1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds. That Niels Lane kept the Gators on life support with 10 points and five rebounds in the first half.

Texas A&M was scrappy and motivated and coach Buzz Williams wears the nicest suits in the SEC. But the Aggies aren’t Kentucky.

It wasn’t that surprising the Gators came back. What was surprising was how they did it.

Reeves had zero points in the first half and looked like a freshman trying to find his way. In the second half, he looked like Kevin Durant in a pickup game at the Y.

Reeves led a 12-2 run at the end of regulation, a display that included a four-point play followed by a 3-pointer in the final 36 seconds.

After being left for dead 10 minutes earlier, Florida had the momentum going into overtime. The Aggies’ best offensive player, Quenton Jackson, had fouled out.

Everything pointed to the Gators closing the deal. But just when things looked up this season, they’d often turn down.

With the score tied, Florida’s last shot was a 3-pointer by Phlandrous Fleming Jr. It ended up stuck between the rim and the backboard.

The Aggies got the ball, called timeout and set up a final shot for guard Hassan Diarra. It went in with 0.4 seconds left.

White’s post-game eulogy included how the Gators “leave everything we got on the floor and come up just a little short.”

Castleton talked about how they cranked up the intensity, played better defense and moved the ball in the second half.

“If we’d have done that in the first half,” he said, “it’d have been a different story.”

If they’d had done that consistently, it wouldn’t have been the Gators. That’s why the story of this season likely will end with the word NIT.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley

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