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Arkansas 80, Florida 72: Gators zone out of SEC Tournament early

On the bright side, your weekend is now free!

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Florida vs Arkansas Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

Near the end of a first half they largely controlled, the Florida Gators held a 29-22 lead over Arkansas in the 2018 SEC Tournament on Friday night.

After that, things did not go so well.

Arkansas closed that first half on an 8-0 run to take its first lead of the night, then refused to let Florida get a lead in the second half, frustrating the Gators’ shooters and pounding Florida’s frontcourt in a 80-72 win.

Keith Stone came to play for the Gators, scoring 22 points off the bench on a mere 10 shots, draining four of his five threes, and securing five rebounds. It would be much harder to say any other Gator did, and harder still to say any one played well: KeVaughn Allen, Chris Chiozza, Jalen Hudson, and Egor Koulechov all started for Florida, and combined for just 41 points on 42 shots, making just eight of their 23 shared threes.

And that was output that wasn’t enough on a night when the Gators allowed one of the potent Arkansas scorers to go off — Jaylen Barford had a game-high 27 points, 19 of them coming in the second period — and couldn’t keep the Hogs off the offensive boards. The Razorbacks racked up 14 offensive boards to Florida’s 20 defensive rebounds, and Daniel Gafford (five, part of a 16-point, 12-rebound night capped by a windmill dunk) and Barford (four, part of his 10 boards) were pivotal in that effort.

Florida’s inability to bury Arkansas early was also a major trouble spot. The Gators never led by more than eight points despite dominating the run of play in the first half, with Arkansas keeping itself in single digits via some fortunate bounces — one three went in off the back iron, another off the top of the backboard — and ultimately positioning itself to remain comfortably ahead of Florida down the stratech.

With the defeat, Florida ends the pre-NCAA Tournament portion of its season at 20-12, and with as many puzzling losses as truly exceptional wins. Its profile will likely get it a No. 5 or No. 6 seed, one destined for a tough game against a good team in the first round that is far from a gimme.

And given these Gators, there are no guarantees about how that game will go.