The buzz continued to grow.
With each passing blowout victory, the national spotlight on Florida grew brighter and brighter.
On Tuesday night however, it appeared that the spotlight effectively blinded the Gators, as they dropped their first SEC game to the Arkansas Razorbacks in blowout fashion, losing 80-69.
The No. 2 Gators (18-3, 8-1) couldn’t have endured a more inauspicious start in Bud Walton Arena, as the Razorbacks (14-8, 5-4) quickly knocked down two three-pointers to jump to a 6-0 lead. While Florida fans sat and waited for the Gators to make their move, Billy Donovan’s team simply couldn’t get their wheels in motion as Arkansas’ lead grew from 6, to 8, to 13, eventually ballooning to 18 points.
Florida hadn’t trailed by more than 11 pall season, and the most points in which it had allowed in the first half was 33 to Kansas State in December.
Arkansas would score 34 by the 9:49 mark.
The Razorbacks’ torrid start was due to un-Arkansas like shooting in the first half, as the home team managed to scorch the nets in the first 20 minutes at a rate in which they hadn’t done all season.
Earlier in the week, Billy Donovan stated that Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell’s absence in last year’s game was understated, and simultaneously called him one of the SEC’s best players. Powell proved Donovan correct in the first half, by leading the Razorbacks with 9 points on 4 of 7 shooting.
As out of sync as the Gators were on defense on Tuesday, the Florida offense was never able to get going either. Florida had two players, Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin, finish the first half with seven points each on a combined 4 of 11 shooting.
However, Rosario and Wilbekin’s production were the only bright spots offensively for Florida, as the no other Gators player was able to get anything going in the half as UF shot a woeful 29.2 % from the field on 7 of 24 shooting.
The Gators ended the first half down 43-26, but whatever talk that transpired in the locker room clearly didn’t carryover to the second half, as Arkansas again jumped out to a quick 6-0 run.
Disgusted with what he believed to be a lack of foul calls going Florida’s way, Donovan called a timeout to light into the officials and then his team.
The emotional huddle seemed to briefly light a fire under the Gators, as five straight Mike Rosario points along with a Patric Young layup cut Florida’s deficit from 23 to 16.
But alas, the run would soon fizzle out for the Gators, who spent the rest of the night playing a cruel game of catch up to the Razorbacks.
BJ Young, who scored 31 points in Arkansas’ defeat to Florida last year, again led the way on Tuesday with 13 points. Powell along Michael Qualls would finish with 11.
Mike Rosario would lead the way for the Gators, finishing with 15, while Wilbekin would chip in 14. Michael Frazier II would add 11 points on 3 of 4 shooting from behind the three-point arc.
After their sloppy 29% performance in the first half, the Gators would end the game shooting 41% making 23 of 56 attempts.
On the injury front, Gators forward Will Yeguete left early on Tuesday evening, as his injured knee would force him to sit for the game.
Tuesday was the first time the Gators have allowed 80 points to be scored on them since their overtime loss to Rutgers in 2011.
Florida will now try to regroup for its Saturday home game against Mississippi State, who it defeated 82-47 on January 26th.
Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. and the game will be shown live on FSN.