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Arkansas 75, Florida 64: Gators’ rally can’t compensate for cold start

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The Gators played one cold half of basketball and one excellent one. They needed just a bit more on either side.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators trailed by 10 at halftime and by as many as 15 points in the second half against Arkansas on Tuesday night.

And though they made a valiant run — coming all the way back to lead in that second half, albeit briefly — that deficit proved a hole too deep for the Gators to dig all the way out of in Bud Walton Arena, as they fell 75-64, in their first game in nearly two weeks.

Four Hogs scored at least 14 points, paced by Dayonte Davis’s 18, and Florida got double-digit scoring from just Tyree Appleby (16 points) and Colin Castleton (13 points off the bench) on a night when it shot 38 percent from the field and 19 percent from three.

Arkansas led 40-30 at halftime and 45-30 after the first few minutes of the second half, but a 9-0 spurt in response by the Gators turned what looked like a sure blowout into a competitive game. Castleton’s tenacity down low helped anchor a Florida offense that seemed largely rudderless in its first action since a loss to South Carolina on February 3, and Appleby’s speed eventually earned him scoring opportunities against an Arkansas defense that was sharp for most of the night.

But Appleby also had seven turnovers and went 1-for-7 from three — scarcely better than Tre Mann’s 1-for-6 night or Noah Locke’s 1-for-5 performance — and Arkansas’s Justin Smith (15 points, six rebounds, four assists, five steals, two blocks) stuffed the stat sheet and the Gators time and again, always seemingly ready with a jump hook or a timely defensive play to keep Florida from surging fully past the homestanding Hogs.

The Gators erased all of that 15-point lead, taking their own one-point advantage with 4:40 to play on an Appleby make, but Mann missed a three that would have put Florida up by four and Scottie Lewis squandered his own steal on the next two possessions, allowing Arkansas to begin what would be a 13-2 closing run.

Florida’s chances of pulling out a win over the tough and high-riding Hogs — now winners of seven of eight and their last seven SEC contests — on the road were never good. But expending as much effort as they did to come all the way back and seize a lead and getting the same L as if they had shrank from that fight is a cruel fate.