BASKETBALL

Florida basketball: 3 takeaways from the Gators' 54-52 loss at Texas A&M

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Jan 18, 2023; College Station, Texas, USA; Texas A&M Aggies guard Tyrece Radford (23) shoots the ball while Florida Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) defends during the second half at Reed Arena. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Florida basketball was unable to overcome a near-historic inept offensive first half, losing 54-52 at Texas A&M on Wednesday night.

The Gators (10-8, 3-3 SEC) had a chance to extend their modest three-game win streak, but off an in-bounds play with 2.5 seconds left, Myreon Jones air-balled a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

It ended a frustrating night on offense for the Gators, who were 2 of 26 from the field in the first half, trailing 23-12 at halftime. The 12 points were the lowest points in the opening 20 minutes for the Gators since scoring 10 in the first half against Florida State on Dec. 7, 1966.

 Overall, Florida shot just 26.5 percent from the field, its lowest percentage since shooting 25.5 percent in a 52-49 win over Georgia Southern on Dec. 15, 2007. It also was Florida's lowest scoring game of the season and fourth time this season the Gators have been held under 60 points.

"You’ve got two good teams that compete really hard, have an identity of defending and being physical," Florida coach Todd Golden said. "There weren’t a lot of easy baskets out there tonight on either side. Obviously, we did a really poor job in the first half making some shots. For the way we guarded them, to hold them to 36 percent for the game, only 18 percent from three, we obviously did our job on that side of the ball."

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Colin Castleton nearly led the Gators back with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocked shots, posting his fourth double-double of the season and 17th for his career. Jones added 10 points but was just 3 of 12 from the field and 3 of 10 from 3-point range.

“We were getting the looks we wanted, just didn’t make shots," Jones said. "We still limited them to 23 at the half, so we were doing our part on defense. Missing shots killed us, so in the second half, we had to make a bigger run than we should have. It is kind of frustrating.”

Texas A&M (13-5, 5-0 SEC) won its seventh straight, with two of the wins coming against Florida. The Aggies also edged Florida 66-63 at the O'Connell Center on Jan. 4.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Starting lineup change doesn't fix another slow start

Florida made a change in its starting lineup, inserting Jones into the starting five to replace Bonham. But it didn't help as the Gators were affected by Texas A&M's swarming defense.

Florida started the game 1 of 21 from the field, with the lone basket coming on a Jones' 3-pointer.

The Gators didn't turn the ball over as much as they did in their first meeting with the Aggies (9 for the game) but rushed some shots. Guard Riley Kugel and forward Alex Fudge both missed point-blank layups inside in the first half, which contributed to the low field-goal percentage as well.

"We did a poor job in the first half attacking their pressure, and it didn’t give us enough time to operate in our half-court sets and we were just tentative in the first half," Golden said. "We were very concerned about taking care of the ball because turnovers were an issue for us the first time we played, and we did a decent enough job that way. But we weren’t aggressive enough."

Gators are bullied in the paint

Florida was outscored 30-18 on points in the paint as Texas A&M got what it wanted inside at key points during the game.

Texas A&M center Julius Marble led all scorers with 19 points, while athletic wing Dexter Dennis was able to drive to the rim, adding 11 points and 16 rebounds.

Florida, meanwhile, was unable to consistently finish inside as Castleton and Fudge went a combined 7 of 21 from the field. Marble went 9 of 18 from the floor.

"He’s a good big in this league," Castleton said. "There’s a lot of guys in this league that have skill on the low block, and he’s one of them. He’s a good big, and we battled all night. 

Another close loss for Florida

Florida's three SEC losses have come by a combined 8 points. The Gators dropped to 0-4 in games decided by 5 points or less this season.

Down 52-49 with 23 seconds left, Florida chose to go for a quick two-point shot instead of a game-tying 3. Jones missed a layup and Castleton had a put-back attempt blocked with 9 seconds left.

But even after a runout basket by Texas A&M put the Aggies up 54-49, Florida still had a chance. Jones hit a transition 3-pointer to cut the lead to 54-52 with 4 seconds remaining and then Texas A&M turned the ball over on the following in-bounds play.

Florida chose to go for the win with Jones, but he was blanketed by Texas A&M as the Gators did not set a screen off the inbounds to free him up for an open look.