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Texas Tech 69, Florida 66: Gators go down fighting, one last time

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Florida had to fight Texas Tech and deafening whistles. And fight the Gators did.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Texas Tech vs. Florida Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It would have been so unlike the Florida Gators, these 2017-18 Florida Gators, for the decisive game of their season to not have featured a painful scoreless stretch, a painful reminder of just how important Chris Chiozza was to this team seared in by his absence, a painful reminder (or seven) of just how hamstrung this team was by its lack of a great big man, and a handful of beautiful bursts to give those with faith in this team hope that it could do astonishing things.

Florida’s game against Texas Tech on this Saturday night featured all of those.

It was also, fittingly, a loss.

Florida didn’t let that loss, a 69-66 one to the Red Raiders, happen quietly, despite the efforts by the referees in charge to dampen the Gators’ roar with whistles.

In the last minute, the Gators gave up an alley-oop from Keenan Evans to Zhaire Smith to go down 69-64, but got a quick bucket from Chiozza to slice the lead to 69-66, then pressed off the make and forced a steal.

But Egor Koulechov couldn’t hit what would’ve been a game-tying three. And neither could KeVaughn Allen. And so the Gators lost, and finished their season raging against the dying of the light.

That they got to those final seconds while every Florida fan was raging at the refs for the better portion of the night was a moral victory, sure. Florida was whistled for 17 fouls by the 11:21 mark of the second half, when Texas Tech entered the double-bonus, and Chiozza’s three quick fouls in the second half gave him four for the game, and led Mike White to sit him and then deploy him as a matador in front of a zone when he was reinserted. Hudson, too, sat for a longer than normal in the second half due to foul trouble, and Florida struggled to score against a rock-ribbed Tech defense with its only point guard and best driver pine-bound.

But Hudson did lead all scorers with 23 points, pipping the scintillating Evans by a single point. And Chiozza had 11 points despite his foul trouble. And Koulechov had 12 despite going 2-for-8 from three. And even KeVaughn Allen’s quiet seven points featured a seismic three midway through the second half.

Florida never led by more than seven points, and never trailed by more than eight. The Gators (39.7 percent from the field) shot just slightly more poorly than the Red Raiders (44.4 percent), whose fine shooting from distance (40 percent) only compensated for some foul-line masonry (50 percent). Florida gave up 13 offensive rebounds, sure, but it also got 13 — in some bizarre symmetry, each team had 26 defensive boards and 13 offensive ones.

And even the fouls came close to evening out by game’s end, with Florida ultimately being penalized 18 times to Tech’s 14.

This was a hard-fought, well-played, down-to-the-wire game.

These Florida Gators played a lot of those. They won some. They lost some.

They lost this one, and so they will play no more.

And I bet we’ll miss that promise of the next game, the next chance — the promise of these Gators — more than we might have thought.