It hasn't been very easy for Florida this year, and especially over the last month of a season that has slipped from the Gators' grip. At Missouri on a Saturday night, with the Tigers playing their last game of the 2015-16 season?
That was easy, somehow.
Dorian Finney-Smith had 20 points and seven rebounds and Chris Chiozza bounced back from a flailing fortnight and change (and an apparent hamstring injury) to put up 17 points and eight assists as Florida handled Missouri, 82-72, ending the season of the SEC's last-place team.
The Gators started well, for once, and built a lead that stretched to double figures before the first 10 minutes of play were up; it stood at 18 points at halftime. It would swell to as many as 21 points in the second half as Florida — finally — married decent offense to good defense. Missouri ripped off a 10-0 run to slice that 21-point lead to 11, and the Tigers stayed in touch for the rest of the contest, but Florida controlled this game, never leading by fewer than seven points after a Kasey Hill three with 14:13 to play in the first half.
Hill was just one of several Gators to fall in love with the sound of ball hitting rim on threes, though, as Florida shot 32 threes and made just nine — with Chiozza's 3-for-5 performance subtracted, that becomes a 6-for-27 performance that was about as woeful as it seems on paper. The Gators got almost as many points at the line, where they made 25 of 33 free throws just four days after making 16 of 37 against Kentucky, and smartly leaned on Finney-Smith for crucial buckets, especially down the stretch.
The win lifts Florida to the No. 8 seed in the SEC Tournament, which nets it a path to the final that runs through only No. 9 Arkansas and No. 1 Texas A&M — teams that Florida has beaten and played to a three-point road loss this season. If any faint NCAA Tournament hopes still flicker for these Gators, they got blown on rather than blown out on this night.
In Nashville, Florida might have to puff a little harder.