The Florida Gators landed in College Station, Texas, in high spirits and a positive conference record. Despite facing some questionable losses earlier in the year, UF had begun to change its fortune and form the foundation for its postseason plea. Despite the final score looking close on paper, Florida returns with a loss, and it’s possible with those same questions and more are back among the Gators’ baggage.
Florida (10-8, 3-3 SEC) fell to Texas A&M (13-5, 5-0) 54-52 Wednesday night after a brutal offensive performance in the first half led to a close loss in the second.
Both teams entered the contest riding the coattails of some solid performances. The Gators had won their last three straight Southeastern Conference matchups after opening conference play 0-2, including a last-second loss to the Aggies at home Jan. 4. Head coach Buzz Williams and Texas A&M have had a superb start, coming into the game with a perfect 4-0 conference record, and first place in the SEC within grasping distance.
The two squads started on the opposite end of the spectrum in their opening possession. Senior Gators point guard Kyle Lofton whiffed on a tough contested shot inside, while TAMU found its opening bucket with ease at the rim.
Florida would finally take the lid off just under four minutes into the half thanks to a three from senior guard Myreon Jones, who was in the starting lineup for the first time this season. The former Penn State Nittany Lion finished with seven points and one assist.
The opening half was all defense, but the Gators were having a much harder time fighting through the aggressive Aggie D. UF star center Colin Castleton turned the ball over twice in a row on traveling violations while being defended in the post, and then picked up an offensive foul on the third consecutive possession.
The 5th-year big man and reigning SEC player of the week finished the first half with a measly one point. UF head coach Todd Golden’s offense was nearly stagnant, the only two field goals scored being Jones’ opening shot and putback basket by Lofton. The Gators stayed in it the rest of the period at the free throw line.
Headed into the locker room, Florida trailed Texas A&M 23-12.
The Gators came out with a jolt in the second half. UF went on a 7-0 run to open the period and dwindled its deficit down to just five points, 27-22. Florida continued to claw at the small Aggie lead, eventually bringing the score to 37-35 with under 10 to go after an and-one bucket from Castleton.
Florida and the Aggies traded baskets, and the Gators found themselves down one possession with just over two minutes until the final buzzer. The game became hectic in the closing moments as both teams clamored at victory. UF found a quality look in the madness that resulted in a Riley Kugel three to make it a 50-49 Aggies lead with 29 seconds to go.
Unfortunately for the Gators, nine first half turnovers, some unlucky misses and some clutch TAMU shooting and defense placed UF just short of a win. UF got a last second chance down two with 2.5 seconds to go, but a final prayer from Jones fell short.
Next up, Florida completes the back leg of its road trip with a stop in Starkville, Mississippi, to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Bulldogs entered conference play with just one loss under their belts but have dropped five of six games to start their SEC schedule. The Gators defeated Mississippi State 80-72 last season led by a 22-point performance from now-UF graduate Anthony Duruji.
Contact Jackson Castellano at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jaxacastellano.