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Butler 76, Florida 62: Bulldogs bite down to snap Gators’ win streak

Florida and Butler played a game of runs for much of the first half. Then the Bulldogs ran away.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Butler Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators and Butler Bulldogs played a back-and-forth game for almost 20 minutes in storied Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday.

But at the end of the first half, the tenacious Bulldogs started making shots — and stopped letting Florida stay in touch, turning what was a close game into one that Butler led by double digits for almost all of the second half and ultimately won by a 76-62 score.

The Butler rally was sparked in part by the return of Kamar Baldwin from early foul trouble. Florida made the most of Baldwin, Butler’s senior leader and electric scorer, sitting with two fouls and put together a 12-1 run — which followed a 5-0 start by Florida and a 12-2 response by Butler — early to jump to a 19-13 lead. But Baldwin’s return began with a three to slice that lead in half, and he would assist on a go-ahead three as part of a 22-6 Butler run — featuring a 5-for-5 stretch from the field and a 6-for-6 spurt at the foul line — into halftime.

And while Baldwin would finish with just 12 points on 13 shots, he had help from Sean McDermott (16 points, three threes) and backcourt mate Aaron Thompson (16 points on just seven shots) — and Butler simply didn’t cool off for any significant stretch of the second half, finishing the day above 50 percent from the field and at 45 percent from three, with 19 assists on 25 made shots. The streakier Gators couldn’t keep up, shooting just 44 percent from the field and a woeful 23 percent from three, and only getting to 14-for-21 from the foul line by making their final 11 free throws.

Kerry Blackshear Jr.’s 17 points came intermittently, and Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, and Keyontae Johnson combining for 31 points did not reflect Locke’s scoring mostly coming prior to halftime and his fellow sophomores’ mostly following it.

But this loss both resembled the ones Florida took to both Florida State and UConn — games in which Florida’s best efforts weren’t enough to catch teams that held leads for much of the afternoon — and served as a first notice that Florida can, in fact, get blown out if another team gets genuinely hot.

It won’t be a bad loss, as Butler remained undefeated and seems destined to challenge for a Big East title, but it was a missed shot at a big win, and Florida’s chances of securing another one of those over its non-conference schedule to match its win over Xavier in the Charleston Classic are dwindling.

But Florida entered this season with expectations far loftier than its results to date, and the disparity between hope and reality is wearing on the fan base — at a minimum.