Florida fought, and fought, and fought. But the short-handed Gators just didn't have enough to win a third straight road game in the NIT — especially not in Washington, D.C., on George Washington's home floor, with the Colonials shooting the lights out from inside the arc.
George Washington made 23 of 41 two-pointers, a 56 percent clip, and pounded the Gators with 15 offensive rebounds, paving the way for an 82-77 victory that sends the Colonials to Madison Square Garden for an NIT semifinal.
For the Gators, that inability to stop the Colonials inside was the biggest problem for a team that sorely missed its biggest player. With John Egbunu out, freshman Kevarrius Hayes stepped up on the offensive end, posting 14 points and six rebounds, but the drop-off from Egbunu to Hayes — and to Schuyler Rimmer — in rim protection was obvious all night, as George Washington's guards hit awkward runners with remarkable frequency as its frontcourt mauled the Gators down low.
KeVaughn Allen added 22 points to get the Gators almost half of their scoring from freshmen, but a woeful night by Devin Robinson (two points on 0-for-5 shooting and five fouls) and underwhelming ones from Kasey Hill (12 points on 18 shots) and Dorian Finney-Smith (nine points and eight boards, but five fouls of his own in his last game as a Gator) made it hard to keep up with the Colonials, who trailed for all of 42 seconds in the second half.
In addition to that paint punishment, Colonials bigs Tyler Cavanaugh and Kevin Larsen also went a combined 5-for-9 from three, with Cavanaugh sinking four of his five triples. The pair combined for 42 points, while Florida's frontcourt only gets to 27 by counting Justin Leon's 11 bench points in its tally.
This is a bitter end to a disorientingly rocky 2015-16 season for Florida. The Gators had played fine basketball over their last four games, and arguably had their two best road performances back-to-back in the NIT despite deserving to play at home and being displaced by the commencement of full-scale renovations to the O'Connell Center. The hopes of culminating a late-season surge with a title won in New York City were dashed in D.C. on Wednesday night.
For a core that should only lose Finney-Smith and little-used Alex Murphy, though, this is a reminder that the Gators' two-year absence from the NCAA Tournament has been less wandering through the wildnerness and more walking on the wrong side of the razor's edge.
A summer of sharpening their own blades would do these Gators good.