On a cold day in Columbia, Missouri, Florida came out hot — even without frequent flamethrower Tyree Appleby.
When the Gators cooled off and Appleby reappeared, the game became, at first, a familiar case of him trying to do too much.
But when Florida needed him most, Appleby provided all of what the Gators required — and it wasn’t fancy like anything he’s done before, but it was enough to yank a 66-65 victory out of the jaws of defeat.
Appleby scored all of his 17 points in the second half and 10 of them — including eight at the line and a go-ahead freebie with 7.9 seconds to play — in Florida’s frantic push in the final four minutes to erase a lead Missouri had held for much of the second half, making in his own way the sort of hero turn that point guard predecessor Chris Chiozza once did to swipe a game in CoMo.
And Appleby did so after struggling to start the game by picking up two fouls in the first four minutes of play, sitting out the remainder of the first half, and committing three turnovers in a four-possession span that also saw Missouri take the lead early in the second half. He did little other than score to impact the game, but his lone steal did come with just under three minutes to play and at a crucial juncture in the action.
Florida might not have gotten to the end of the game within shouting distance of the Tigers, however, without Myreon Jones finally getting hot in the first half. Jones drained five of six threes, including one off-balance triple banked in from the wing, emerging from a long cold spell as a Gator to dramatically affect a game in a positive way for the first time in weeks. And three free throws in the second half after being fouled on a trey would get him to a game-high 18 points.
That scoring was supplemented in fits and starts by Phlandrous Fleming (12 points and the most improbable three of the first half) and Anthony Duruji (14 points) for much of the game’s long middle. But while Florida led by as many as eight points in the first half, the Tigers seized the second half by frustrating the Gators defensively and using a balanced attack that yielded six to 13 points from each of seven players, building their own lead that stood at nine points at the under-eight media timeout.
Florida would claw back with a 9-1 run, but a 4-0 spurt by Missouri put the Tigers back up four, and moment later, they led by three for maybe the game’s most controversial call — a double technical assessed on Niels Lane and Ronnie DeGray for contact that began with DeGray seeming to hook and hold Lane on a rebound attempt following a Missouri free throw and a frustrated Lane ultimately casting DeGray to the floor while extricating himself from the situation.
That foul was Lane’s fifth, disqualifying him after yet another scoreless game in which his tireless defense nonetheless helped provide Florida intensity that was lacking, and it likely cancelled out what could have been an opportunity for the Gators to shorten the lead at the line and then seize it with the possession had a flagrant been assessed on DeGray alone.
But Appleby took advantage of what felt like a moment when Florida would get some dispensation from the refs by stripping the ball at the defensive end and driving to get fouled, beginning a sequence of nine straight possessions in which the teams traded two-point trips.
And on the tenth, Missouri broke, nearly turning over the ball thanks to a diving swipe by Appleby and missing the front end of a one-and-one, which Jones rebounded and passed to Appleby — who courted disaster again, nearly turning the ball over and needing to be bailed out by a timeout after sprawling on the floor to recover it.
Yet after a timeout, Appleby got the inbounds pass, drove, created contact, got fouled, and calmly sank two free throws to give Florida its first lead since the 17:12 mark of the first half — on, naturally, a three by Appleby.
And when asked to preserve that lead with one stop, Florida split it in two, with Tuongchach Gatkek erasing a leaner with his fifth block and Duruji smothering what became a poor three-point attempt from the corner to earn the win.
It was not pretty. And it was the result of play that Florida should absolutely not attempt to repeat in future games, especially given that the Gators’ brutal 7-for-20 night inside the arc threatened to spoil a 10-for-23 performance beyond it.
But these Gators need wins far more than they need style points.
And they got one today.