It is not often that college basketball teams allow their opponents to shoot 56 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point range and win.
No, Florida didn’t buck that trend on Thanksgiving — it lost, 90-83, to Xavier, to fall into the consolation bracket of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, and cost itself one of the great potential prizes of non-conference play.
And while Xavier shot it well all afternoon in Portland, Florida’s often befuddled or indifferent defense had a lot to do with that. Todd Golden threw a lot of defenders and looks at a Xavier offense that stabbed at the Gators with flex cuts and stretched it out with shooting threat Paul Nunge at center, and never quite found a solution to the problems the Musketeers posed, which resulted in all five Xavier starters finishing in double figures and guards Souley Boum and Colby Jones each contributing 22 points.
Florida might still have won this one if it had not let up puncturing runs for Xavier, though. A 12-0 burst after Florida’s own 5-0 start dashed any chances of the Gators building a lead, an 8-0 salvo into halftime turned a four-point Florida advantage into a four-point deficit to deal with, and a 15-4 run midway through the second half effectively decided the game, as it gave the Musketeers an 11-point lead from a 58-58 tie.
To its credit — and especially the credit of Trey Bonham and Will Richard, who combined for 41 points — Florida did not stop making its own runs until the last couple of minutes, with Richard immediately answering the 15-3 one with a three and Bonham alertly swiping the ball on an inbounds play to get the Gators within a single possession for the second time after falling behind by double digits.
But Bonham missed an and-one free throw that could have shortened the lead to two, Nunge answered with a layup at the other end after good work on Colin Castleton, and despite Castleton getting his own answer to go at the other end, Florida could not string together more plays to get any closer down the stretch.
The loss costs Florida a chance to meet Duke — the premier program of the Phil Knight Legacy field, and a team the Gators owe another close contest after their duel in the Phil Knight Invitational five years ago — in the semifinal of the winners’ bracket, as the Gators will instead meet Oregon State — which pushed Duke, but is not Duke — on Friday.
But if Xavier could slice and dice Florida’s defense, what Duke’s talented roster could do might be a possibility best left unexplored. And the Gators now need to make sure this loss and the specter of what might have been don’t cost them against the Beavers.