It was supposed to be easy.
The Gators had the chance to bounce back from their first loss of the season against Oklahoma with a buy-game against a Texas Southern Tigers team that entered at 0-7. Florida was listed as a 24-point favorite when the game tipped off, and it was undefeated in its previous 26 matchups against teams from the SWAC.
So much for that.
The Gators were stunned on their home court by the Tigers 69-54, dropping to 6-2 on the season with a Quadrant 4 loss now on the resume. The teams traded shots in the opening minutes, with Florida’s largest lead the whole night coming at 13-7. But UF’s shots stopped dropping, and TSU’s didn’t. It stretched a 10-point lead heading into the locker room, and Florida couldn’t cut into that lead at all in the second half.
The Gators were bad in basically all facets of the game, and there’s no way to look at this game as anything but puzzling in every way. Here are the takeaways from UF’s first-ever loss to a SWAC team.
The program suffered its most embarrassing losses in recent program history
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Following last season’s tournament exit against Oral Roberts, I wrote very critically of coach Mike White. But after Florida’s 6-0 start to the season that featured impressive wins over rival Florida State (the first win in the series under White) and Ohio State, I was fully prepared to start eating some crow.
Not so fast.
This team could theoretically still achieve all its goals. It could compete in SEC play, it could pull off some wins in the conference tournament and perhaps even make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. But based on the way the team played on Monday night, that seems unlikely.
It’s hard to put into words just how bad this loss was for the Gators. The idea of a ranked UF team losing on its home court to a previously winless mid-major squad still seems unthinkable. And yet, here we are.
This performance was nothing short of an embarrassment for the team. All the improvements it showed earlier in the season have been absent in the last two games. A loss to a good Oklahoma team on the road wasn’t particularly consequential, but this is a loss that could have a significant impact on UF’s tournament odds if it’s anywhere near the bubble.
But don’t worry. If the team plays like this come SEC play, it’s not going to matter.
Florida couldn't hit water if it fell out of a boat
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The offense looked so much better than it did last year in the first few games this season, both in terms of ball movement and shooting. One bad shooting game is an off night. Two is a worrying trend, and three is a real problem.
The Gators didn’t shoot very well in their last two games against teams with a pulse. They overcame it in the win over the Buckeyes, largely due to forcing turnovers, but it ultimately proved costly in the loss to the Sooners. The Gators forced a mind-boggling 22 turnovers in this one, but that only led to 15 points. It was emblematic of an ugly shooting night for the team.
It shot just 38.2% from the field and 20.8% from three — a number that’s actually slightly inflated by garbage time (yes, there was garbage time in UF’s loss to the aforementioned winless mid-major team). Even when the Gators managed to get to the line, they still couldn’t find the bottom of the net, shooting 7 of 16 on free throws.
Brandon McKissic (15 points) and Colin Castleton (12 points) were the only UF players to score in double figures, and McKissic was actually 4 of 6 from the field — all 3-point attempts. Still, the rest of the team struggled with misses on high-percentage shots.
Though Florida turned the ball over 10 times, it still had pretty good ball movement. It was simply missing open shots. This offense is regressing, and it couldn’t even shoot at a semi-respectable rate against a team that hadn’t held an opponent under 60 points all season and gave up 87 in its last outing against Louisiana Tech.
It will be a long season if that cold streak continues.
Florida was completely overmatched inside
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They say that success inside, especially when it comes to rebounding, is an effort-based endeavor. That certainly appeared to be the case against the Tigers, who didn’t have any players in their starting lineup taller than 6-foot-9-inches. Florida may have had a big matchup advantage physically, but it simply couldn’t match the intensity inside that TSU brought to the table.
The Gators were doubled up in rebounds 46-23, and there’s simply no excuse for that. Not when you have 6-foot-11-inch Castleton and Anthony Duruji, who has pogo sticks for legs. The pair combined for just nine boards in this one, and the offensive rebounding margin was 14-8, leading to a 17-7 advantage for Texas Southern in second-chance points.
The Tigers shot 54.4% from the field and were on the right side of 50% in both halves. They shot 45.5% from beyond the arc, though they only attempted 11 shots from downtown. Florida committed 14 fouls, and 42 of Texas Southern’s 69 points came in the paint.
It’s one thing to lose a game — even one like this — because your opponent shoots the lights out. It’s another thing entirely to be completely overmatched inside by a mid-major team despite having an NBA prospect playing center.
TSU had three players score in double figures, and two of them came of the bench. The star was forward Joirdan Karl Nicholas, who had 14 points while hitting all seven of his shots. Guard PJ Henry led the team with 16 points, while starting forward John Walker III had 13 points.
This defense has shown signs of weakness after a dominating start to the season, and everything finally collapsed in this one. The Tigers broke Florida’s press, like Oklahoma did, exploiting the weaknesses the Gators put on tape while White’s team failed to adjust at all.
If this team can’t shoot or even defend the paint against a bad mid-major team, conference play in an SEC that’s as competitive as it’s ever been is going to be a rude awakening for White’s squad.