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Georgia 61, Florida 55: Gators eaten alive inside in thudding loss

The Gators couldn’t keep pace with Georgia’s big man in a slow-motion defeat.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators were down 15-6 early. They let a seven-point lead achieved early in the second half evaporate in mere moments. They went cold — they always do, don’t they? — for a long, painful stretch in the second half, falling behind for good.

But most of all, in a 61-55 loss to Georgia on Saturday night, a result that snaps a five-game winning streak for the Gators and a nine-game losing streak for the Bulldogs, Florida let itself get eaten up inside — and that won’t sit well for Mike White and his team.

Georgia went 19-for-31 inside the arc, feeding Nicolas Claxton time and again en route to his career high 25 points. No other Bulldog scored more than nine points, and Georgia — an excellent offensive rebounding team — had just two offensive boards.

That was enough.

Jalen Hudson, gamely trying to keep Florida in the game early and late, had 13 points, but required 13 shots to get them. KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke combined for 12 points on 17 shots. Andrew Nembhard, bothered by a back injury sustained midway through the first half, had a relatively quiet eight points and four assists; Keyontae Johnson, who was superb against Georgia in Athens, had six points and three turnovers.

And Florida went long stretches — two separate three-minute stints in the first half, and nearly nine minutes in the second period — without getting a bucket, needing to do much of its work at the free throw line in a game that never really saw the Gators run.

But Georgia was able to pound the ball inside whenever it wanted, and that, more than Georgia getting all manner of good bounces — whether a fortunate no-call on what looked like a clear travel up two late or a favorable roll on a layup to go up four shortly afterward — was why this night produced a shocking result.

And this will surely throw Florida’s hopes of making the NCAA Tournament into some turmoil. The Gators had done enough in recent weeks to play themselves off the bubble and into the field of 68, but this loss was maybe the worst left for them to take this year, and it erodes a fair bit of Florida’s foothold.

The good news is that the Gators get two more big chances for bigger wins this week, as LSU comes to Gainesville and Florida treks to Kentucky.

The bad news is that Florida has no chance of winning those games if it reprises its performance from this night.