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Florida vs. Iona, NIT Game Thread: Gators begin their last ride

Can Florida fend off a legendary head coach on its home floor?

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament- Florida vs Texas A&M Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Less than a week ago, the Florida Gators men’s basketball team was preparing for a clash with Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament, hoping to prevail in a must-win game to keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

This Wednesday night, they play the Iona Gaels in the 2022 NIT — and without then-head coach Mike White, who is in the middle of his first week at Georgia.

My, how time flies.

The third-seeded Gators face a difficult path to Madison Square Garden in their NIT bracket, and getting past the Gaels and legendary head coach Rick Pitino on this night will be its own high hurdle. Iona seemed destined for an NCAA Tournament berth before its MAAC Tournament stumble, has beaten Alabama this season, and plays an up-tempo style anyone who’s ever seen a Pitino team will find familiar.

Without the injured Anthony Duruji and C.J. Felder, though, Florida is all but forced to play small around Colin Castleton — which might help null some of the smaller Gaels’ hypothetical advantages.

For Florida, this NIT is a vestigial tail of a season that may one day serve as a cautionary tale; other than pride, there isn’t all that much on the line.

But pride can be a powerful motivator.