Florida held a 39-36 halftime lead over Alabama on Wednesday night, and appeared poised to at least go down to the wire with the defending SEC champion in Gainesville.
Then the Tide changed, as tides do — and Florida got swept away.
Alabama began the second half with an extended 22-4 run that swung the Gators’ lead to a 15-point deficit, then kept pounding the offensive glass and pouncing on Florida turnovers to ultimately take an 83-70 victory in the O’Connell Center.
Much of the game could be boiled down to Alabama shooting 20 more shots than the Gators, a result of a whopping 20 offensive rebounds for the Crimson Tide and 20 turnovers for the Gators. Florida did pull down 15 offensive boards of its own, but Alabama had just 12 turnovers on the night, and the quantity of second- and third-shot opportunities did wonders for a team that shot just 40 percent from the field and made just nine of 32 triples.
Meanwhile, Florida dribbled balls off body parts and threw easily intercepted passes too often to keep pace with the talented Alabama roster, which got double-digit scoring from every starter and 19 points each from Jahvon Quinerly and Juwan Gary.
And while Alabama’s vaunted three-happy offense kept it afloat early on, with Quinerly and Jaden Shackleford each making tough triples in the early goings, Florida’s shooting could only narrow the gap so much in the second half, with Myreon Jones making three of four threes in one stretch but going just 3-for-12 from distance on the night.
The only other Gators to sink threes were Anthony Duruji, perfect on his lone corner triple, and C.J. Felder, whose 12 points off the bench were one of just a handful of offensive highlights for Florida, joining Colin Castleton’s typical excellence (19 points, seven rebounds) and Jones briefly getting hot after a long and painful cold spell.
And while Florida fading in its first game in two weeks — a longer-than-usual pause for the holidays that included a break from practices and a game postponement necessitated by COVID-19 issues — is understandable, this loss is made more painful by that both that first half in which the Gators did enough to win and the spurts the Gators put on down the stretch to cut into Alabama’s lead.
This was not an outclassed team for the full 40 minutes — just for the duration of that Alabama run out of halftime. But for these Gators, the margin of victory or defeat in an ultra-competitive SEC may come down to preventing or limiting runs like that, or staging ones of their own.
And on this night, that’s what they did not do.