The Florida Gators had a chance to continue a stretch of strong play into a second straight SEC road game at Missouri on Saturday night.
And even after falling behind by another large margin, the Gators had a chance to stage another stunner of a comeback in Columbia.
But Missouri made a mockery of Florida’s defense at all levels, and its fusillade of threes and punishing work in the paint led the way in a 91-75 rout of the Gators that was nowhere near as close as its final margin would suggest — and that will send Mike White and his staff back to the drawing board.
Florida never led in the game, played before an intimate gathering of boisterous Missouri fans on a snowy night, and trailed 3-0 12 seconds in on the first of the Tigers’ 12 threes on the night.
That lead would only really grow in the first half: To 6-1, 18-9, 31-18, 45-27, and 51-34. The Tigers’ 51 points were their most in the first half of any game since joining the SEC, per the broadcast, and Florida’s five threes in the first period barely dented the Missouri advantage.
Yet Florida fought after the break, despite allowing yet another three on the first possession of the second half. A lead that swelled to 18 on that three would be cut to 10 by a stepback three from Tre Mann, and Mann stepped to the line with a chance to bring it back to single digits with 11:43 to play.
Instead, he missed the front end of a one-and-one — and Missouri scored on the next possession, beginning an 18-4 run to put the Gators away for good.
But Florida’s offense arguably did enough to win this game if its defense — and/or the Tigers’ shooting — had been just average. The Gators made 10 of 23 threes, and earned 32 free throws — 25 of which went down, despite a couple of malfunctions like Mann’s, and 10 of which produced the plurality of Kerry Blackshear’s 22 points. Noah Locke drilled four threes for his 12 points, tying Brett Nelson’s program record for consecutive games with multiple made threes at 12, and Mann and Scottie Lewis helped compensate for a relative no-show from Andrew Nembhard (eight points, four assists) with a combined 18 points off the bench.
Even though Florida made just 10 of 29 two-pointers, it got enough points from enough possessions to have a respectable total at game’s end, even if garbage time inflated that number significantly.
The Gators’ defense, though, was atrocious — and Missouri was amazing.
The Tigers pulverized Florida inside, racking up 40 points in the paint and feasting on an array of drives, post-ups, and putbacks — and they were even better from afar, knocking down those 12 threes on just 19 attempts. Mizzou’s 63 percent clip from three was the best by any Florida opponent with more than 15 attempts from three since a 2004 loss to Vanderbilt in which the Commodores knocked down 10 of 15 triples.
Some of those threes were well-guarded, or came off the fingertips of shooters who had produced poor percentages prior to this game. But some were not. And Florida allowed too many makes, period — 32 on 52 total shots — to a team that it needed to make miss more often and harass into more than 11 turnovers just to have a chance in this game.
The Gators should have come into this game feeling good after playing well, and could have been forgiven for believing they could conjure up another comeback from double digits after doing so in their previous two games.
But if this isn’t a wake-up call for Florida’s players in regards to the many on-court differences between feeling good and playing well — and the hunger requisite to play well on a routine basis — then it seems more possible than ever that this team’s great potential will be wasted on a snoozer of a season.