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Texas Southern 69, Florida 54: Gators get waxed by road-weary, winless Tigers

A Florida team that spent November flying has had its wings clipped in December.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Southern at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Florida started slowly against Texas Southern on Monday night, but still led 13-7 about six minutes into its tussle with the Tigers.

Then an 11-2 run by Texas Southern would make the slow start a befuddling one. Then the Tigers built a 35-25 halftime lead. Then it got worse — way worse — in the second period.

And when it ended, Florida was left with a 69-54 loss, one that will hang like an albatross around what felt like a promising season prior to this faceplant.

Balanced scoring helped the Tigers overtake and then run away from the Gators, with six different players scoring eight or more points and reserves P.J. Henry (16 points, three assists) and Joirdon Karl Nicholas (14 points on seven-for-seven shooting) combining for 30 points off the bench.

And when those Tigers weren’t taking advantage of Florida’s aggressive on-ball defense, cutting it to ribbons with back cuts much like Oklahoma did a week ago, they were cleaning the glass — and Florida’s collective clock along with it. TSU had 14 offensive rebounds off just 26 missed shots and three missed free throws, and allowed just eight to Florida off 34 misses; together, that led to the Gators being doubled up on the boards, 46-23.

Florida might still have survived that onslaught if it had managed to do anything else right on the night. It essentially didn’t.

Those 34 misses on 55 shots translated to just 39 percent shooting, while just five of 24 threes (22 percent) found their mark for the Gators. A woeful 7-for-16 night at the line compounded those scoring struggles, which plagued virtually every Gator but Brandon McKissic — but his 15 points came on great (4-for-6) shooting from distance and a maddening 3-for-6 night at the charity stripe.

Hell, even what should be Florida’s best offense — getting the ball off steals from that suffocating defense — didn’t really work. The Gators forced 22 turnovers, netting 12 steals in that tally, but scored just 15 points off turnovers and only 11 on fast breaks.

Texas Southern forced just 10 Florida turnovers, but did not need them, instead mauling the Gators inside for 42 points in the paint. And, just for an extra sprinkling of salt on the wound, the Tigers made five of 11 threes — one fewer than their season high for makes on their fewest attempts of the season.

There is no sugar-coating the result: This was a miserable loss, definitively the worst of Mike White’s tenure at Florida and possibly the worst of the modern era of Florida basketball, depending on where one says that begins. It will surely cost Florida dearly when it comes time to evaluate the Gators prior to the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

But Florida’s greater problem is that it plays again in two days, and against a game North Florida team that has just watched both a program the Gators might want to consider a peer (Oklahoma) and a program UNF might consider its peer do serious damage to the defense and confidence of a previously unbeaten squad.

Any worries about what Florida will be in March are obviously premature. Tonight, Florida has to deal with being a mess in the present.