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Baylor 72, Florida 61: Gators’ cold night leads to numbing loss

The Gators came out firing, but cooled off quickly — and that would be their undoing.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Gator boys were hot out of the gate on Saturday night.

The Florida Gators started their showdown with the Baylor Bears on a 17-9 run, hitting three threes on the way to that eight-point lead.

They wouldn’t hit a three again until just more than a minute remained — but Baylor mustered eight more after hitting one in that first stretch, took the lead as Florida went cold late in the first half, and weathered a strong defensive effort from the Gators in the second half by keeping them in the masonry business, ultimately collecting a 72-61 win.

Florida’s first seven points came via Keyontae Johnson, whose 20 would lead all scorers. But those points came in spurts — after those first seven, he would not score again until the 11:41 mark of the second half — and inefficiently, on 16 shots, including a dunk that was the game’s final shot attempt. Andrew Nembhard was similarly productive on a lot of usage, scoring 16 points on 14 shots, with two of his eight assists coming in the game’s final 75 seconds.

And Florida’s old foe — woeful shooting — was as daunting as Baylor’s defense. The Gators made just four of 17 threes, and shot just 44 percent from the field, with nary a player other than Kerry Blackshear managing to crack 50 percent on the night. And Blackshear — as has become a theme against more physical defenses — was relatively quiet in this game, making just three of five baskets and scoring just nine points.

Still, Florida had chances to get back in the game in the second half thanks to a spirited defensive effort that had Baylor under 20 points in the frame for its first 14:39. None was better than the one blown by Blackshear and Noah Locke — whose streak of consecutive games with multiple threes also came to an end — as they combined to miss three straight front ends of one-and-ones in just over 90 seconds of play, costing the Gators a possible six points at a time when that could have halved Baylor’s lead.

In the end, this game was about Baylor’s run to end the first half, a 13-2 surge that featured the Bears leaning on Florida and making shots at the offensive end and clamping down defensively.

Before that run, the game was tied at 27. In the second half, the teams each scored 32 points.

But the five minutes that Baylor spent charging ahead were five minutes that left Florida for dead.

And the Gators — so eager to make this a second straight Saturday capped by a big win at home — will need to find a spark and some life after this game, lest their season start sliding toward a premature demise.