Florida knew it was in for a battle from basically the tip-off in Oklahoma, as the Sooners built a 9-0 lead mere moments into Wednesday night’s game.
But as valiant as the Gators were in slicing into Sooners advantages all night, they never quite controlled the contest — and they certainly didn’t make enough shots, falling 74-67 to lose for the first time this season.
Florida’s rally back to the lead in the first half and its late salvo to cut a 10-point Oklahoma advantage to just two points in the final segment of play were impressive in their own rights. Phlandrous Fleming had a lot to do with the pre-halftime push, coming off the bench to score 12 of his Gators-best 17 points; Tyree Appleby, suddenly hot after a decidedly icy night, stroked his only two threes to bookend an 8-0 run that cut Oklahoma’s lead from 69-59 to 69-67 with just under two minutes to play.
But the Sooners calmly answered — as they did for much of the night — with a pass to a cutting Jalen Hill, and he converted a three-point play to put OU back up five. A pair of empty possessions for Florida would follow, allowing the Sooners to stave off what would have been a shocking comeback.
And Florida, to be clear, would have been stealing a game it had done little to deserve if that comeback had come through. The Gators committed 16 turnovers, often off their own mistakes — like Colin Castleton trying to dish a pass to the corner after an offensive rebound, only to realize after the ball went out of bounds that he had mistaken a Gator on the bench for one in play — and made just four of their 24 threes, with Appleby and Myreon Jones combined for three of those made threes and 16 attempts.
Castleton had 14 points and 11 rebounds, but never got fully untracked against an Oklahoma scheme that sent a variety of defenders his way, committing six turnovers in the game; additionally, he had his second half stymied by two fouls called in the first 91 seconds of the second half. Anthony Duruji also got whistled for two fouls early in the second period, part of a spate that saw Florida get called for five fouls in 2:09 of play — without Oklahoma picking up even one.
And while Oklahoma never led by more than 10 thanks to dogged work by Florida on defense, the Sooners got big shots when they needed them, including a three by center Tanner Groves and a throwdown from Hill in sequence that seemed to shut the door on the Gators with just over five minutes to go.
That the Gators fought back from even that to make a run at a win is a testament to their character and defense, which kept the Sooners from ever really running away.
That they could not magically pull this comeback out is a reminder that though they have done plenty of proving thus far this year, they still have plenty of improving to do, too.