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Michigan State 63, Florida 59: Gators go down fighting in frustrating loss

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The Gators gave the Spartans fits all day. But they could never quite take the lead.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators broke from the gates brilliantly in their matchup with the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday, putting up a 5-0 lead in the first minute of play thanks to some sweet shooting from KeVaughn Allen.

From then on, though, Michigan State would control the game — and, ultimately, leave Florida with a 63-59 win that showcased how close is only so satisfying.

Allen and Andrew Nembhard each had 13 points for the Gators, but they were Florida’s only double-digit scorers; Michigan State had four, led by the dominance of Xavier Tillman (14 points) and Nick Ward (13 points) inside, and got its final seven points from Kyle Ahrens, who made two shot clock-beating buckets and a massive three in the final stage of the game.

And Ahrens — who had not scored prior to that — stepping up for the Spartans wrote a fitting final chapter to this contest, which saw a battle-tested Michigan State squad doing just enough to hold off the feisty but offensively-challenged Gators.

Florida forced 15 turnovers and committed just nine — though Nembhard’s three equaled his assists — and took 12 more shots than the Spartans, but Michigan State made three more shots, shooting 51 percent from the floor to Florida’s 37 percent, and was more efficient at the line, getting seven points on eight free throws while Florida got its seven points on 12 foul shots.

And the lone Florida player to make more than half of his shots, Deaundrae Ballard, took just three of them, as the Gators routinely created good looks for others that just would not fall. Allen, Nembhard, and Keith Stone took a combined 37 shots in this game, more than half of the 63 Florida put up — and that trio of starters made just 14 of those attempts, combining to score just 34 points.

That inability to convert left the Gators constantly scratching away at a Michigan State lead that never swelled to more than 12 points — and only sat at that margin for less than a minute — but also never vanished. The Spartans responded to the 5-0 Florida start with a 12-1 run of their own, and would never trail again.

And when Ahrens picked up a loose ball that bounced right to him and drove for a buzzer-beating dunk with under 10 seconds to play, it finished off a Florida team that fought as hard as it seemingly can, but still came up just short.