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Texas A&M 66, Florida 63: Gators keep on going down fighting

It’s getting a little old.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After Wednesday night in the O’Dome, the Florida Gators have met Texas A&M three times in men’s college basketball in their last 23 games.

Those games have been decided by a combined seven points — and the teams have been four points apart after six halves of regulation play, with one three-pointer with seconds left swinging one of those games in overtime. Objectively, they have been good, hard-fought basketball games, if a little low on offense. (Neither team has mustered more than 70 points in regulation in any of them.)

But the Gators could be forgiven for wanting to see nearly any other foe. A&M’s 66-63 win on this night in Gainesville makes Florida 0-3 in those games, after all.

The style, tone, tenor, and pace of all of these games has more to the Aggies’ liking, and Buzz Williams’s men made sure this would be a knock-down, drag-out sort of game from shortly after the opening tip. While Florida led 1-0 at that tip thanks to a delay of game foul on the Aggies for not having their game uniforms on — reportedly, they were left at the team’s hotel and fetched too late to meet the scheduled tip time — and 4-2 after an early Trey Bonham three, A&M would take back the lead and hold it for much of the night, allowing a single one-point Florida lead in the second half.

Smothering A&M defense led to 20 Florida turnovers — half of them Aggies steals — and the Gators looked wholly out of sorts for the first 20 minutes, trailing 34-23 at halftime.

But Florida staged an 8-0 run out of the locker room, with Bonham and Will Richard each swishing threes, and the second half was far more competitive than the first, with the Gators reeling in the Aggies despite multiple runs by the visitors.

Colin Castleton, harassed into six turnovers by double-teams out of A&M’s matchup zone all night, fought hard for his 14 points, five boards, and four blocks, and also dished two assists, while Bonham led all scorers with 21 points.

Yet Castleton completing a three-point play to give Florida the lead with just under six minutes left was answered immediately by A&M, and Castleton completing a personal 4-0 run with a steal and a drive of three-quarters of the court with just a minute to go — getting Florida to a 63-all tie — was followed by Wade Taylor making it a three-way tie for A&M’s scoring lead with 17 points on the night with a floater earned by dribbling past a physical screen.

Florida’s last chances at tying or taking the lead weren’t particularly good ones, either. The Gators missed their first attempt at a game-tying field goal in the final minute, but got the ball back thanks to a travel by A&M’s Andre Gordon, who fell to the floor rebounding a Kyle Lofton miss. Then Bonham drove into a charge while elevating for a missed layup, giving the Aggies the ball with the lead and just seconds left.

After a 1-for-2 trip to the line by the Aggies, Bonham would get one last chance to send the game to overtime, but had to heave up a 30-footer at the buzzer — and while it looked good, it hit the back rim, dooming Florida to an 0-2 start in conference play.

That those losses are by a combined six points is surely little solace to a roster that has to be even more frustrated by a season of hard-fought defeats than Florida fans are.

But Florida’s next game — a home date with former Florida head coach Mike White’s Georgia, which improved to 11-3 on the year on Wednesday by thumping the Auburn team that beat Florida last week — has all the potential in the world for frustrations to metastasize into something much worse.