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Missouri 72, Florida 70: Tigers bite Gators at buzzer after turnovers build hole

Florida’s first-half torrent of turnovers rendered its rally in the second half valiant rather than victorious.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It came down to the final shot in Gainesville on Wednesday night, and because Missouri was taking it — because it was Dru Smith going up and under the basket on a baseline drive, too — it ended up going in to beat Florida, 72-70.

But while the Gators, who rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half and an eight-point hole in the last three minutes, played well enough to win after intermission, what they did before the break was what doomed them on this night.

15 first-half turnovers by the Gators led to 18 Missouri points, and the Tigers’ 36-29 lead at the break was built largely on the careless and casual play of Florida’s offense after a freewheeling 7-0 start. That was met by an 8-0 Missouri run, and by increased defensive pressure that never really let up.

Florida shot the ball brilliantly despite that defensive intensity, making 58 percent of its shots and 36 percent of its threes, but the Gators couldn’t overcome the extra chances that those turnovers and 11 offensive rebounds granted the Tigers, which resulted in 18 more shots for Missouri on the night. The Tigers (28) only had three more makes than Florida (25), but sank nine of 22 threes, taking advantage of aggressive doubling that often left a shooter free on the back side of Florida’s defense.

Yet while Smith led the Tigers with a fine line of 17 points, nine rebounds, and six steals, Florida impressed with its resilience and decision-making in the second half, as Tre Mann posted his second consecutive 21-point game and led an offense that committed just three turnovers. And Florida answered Missouri’s 39-29 edge just after halftime with a 13-4 run, then cobbled together an 8-0 run in the final three minutes to erase a 70-62 lead, with Colin Castleton hitting two free throws to tie the game at 70 with under 20 seconds to play.

But on the game’s most important play, Smith took advantage of Mann hedging to his left and slithered past him down the baseline, getting a shot to go under the outstretched arms of Mann and Anthony Duruji.

And with the loss, Florida now has work to do to secure a coveted top-four seed in the SEC Tournament and the double bye that comes with it — work that will come on Rocky Top, where it has struggled mightily in recent years.