Same story, different night.
The Florida Gators basketball team dropped to 12-12 on the year and 5-6 in the SEC after losing 62-61 to Ole Miss (17-7, 8-3) on Thursday night.
This marks the sixth time so far this season that the Gators have lost by less than 5 points.
Alex Murphy could do nothing more than shake his head over and over saying, “It’s frustrating. I don’t know that’s the only word I can think of. It seems like it’s happened over and over again this year, because it has.”
Florida’s leading scorer, Michael Frazier II, was on the bench in a boot with a high ankle sprain for this game, and freshman Devon Robinson stepped up to the plate, shining in his absence.
The forward finished with 14 points, which led the team along with Dorian Finney-Smith.
Robinson kicked off the scoring and junior guard Eli Carter quickly followed with a three. By the time the first substitutions were checking in, Florida had a 10-4 lead. This run had the spark Donovan had been looking for with rebounds, a no-look pass from Carter to Robinson for three, and a steal by sophomore guard Kasey Hill that led to a layup. Following a high energy, albeit losing effort versus Kentucky, this was the energy head coach Billy Donovan was hoping to see carry over.
“I was proud of our guys today”, he said in his postgame.
“I was proud. I thought we tried to do the right things, I thought we tried to play together; I thought we tried to play with some energy and some passion. We did some good things. We did some positive things.”
Then came the “but”, the one that seems to follow any positive Donovan’s 2014-2015 squad has been able to muster up.
“But it almost looked to me like we had a group of guys that were standing there wanting somebody to go make a play, and make a shot and instead of working together”, Donovan said.
While they tried to figure out who would make a play, Ole Miss snuck by this opening run with a 10-2 run of their own which took the lead and thus the rhythm was settled.
There were 13 lead changes in the game, and five ties.
There were other positives that Donovan will be able to draw from. With the Gators holding a one point lead with 7:34 left in the first half, Alex Murphy was able to sink his first three of the year, and then shortly there after, followed an Ole Miss basket with a layup of his own to make it 27-23.
Sophomore forward Chris Walker called for alley-oops all night but it was his performance at the line that garnered his nicest box score. A layup in which he was able draw a foul got him started and he finished the night 3-5 from the free throw line. He also tied his career high with six rebounds.
The Gators took a 38-33 lead into half and the knowledge of a 10-5 record of winning this season when ahead at half.
The second half though is where Donovan saw things start to fall apart…again.
“We get into these moments,” Donovan marveled.
Pointing to one stretch in particular when there was a missed layup from Jacob Kurtz, a shot clock violation and then a missed three pointer from Dorian Finney-Smith, Donovan praised their shot selection but again lamented the play around them at the time saying, “We got standing waiting for somebody to make a play and that I think for us is another point for these guys to learn. We have to do it collectively together, and do it as a team.”
There has been some progress in this area, he assures, and it was seen in particular with Devon Robinson tonight.
As mentioned above, Robinson finished with 14 points (6-9 FG, 2-4 3ptFG). He also had a career and team leading high seven rebounds. He was able to block two shots at the rim on defense, and dunk three on the other end, all assisted by Chris Chiozza. As a freshman still learning the ropes, Robinson has averaged 17.3 minutes this year. Versus Ole Miss though, he tallied 31 minutes.
Watch-> Chiozza to Robinson Dunk
“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Robinson admitted.
“I know what I can do, just got to go out there and do it…I just played with more energy, [and] I didn’t worry about my offense.”
Robinson should’ve been the story of the night. It even seemed like he would be, with a 1:08 left, when he was able to grab a rebound off a missed Rebels three from Stefan Moddy.
But as the Gators have learned the hard way, this season has been filled with could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.
Instead, the story was one that has been played out all to often for this teams liking.
With 18.4 seconds left, Ole Miss took a timeout. Coming out of it, the Rebels seemed at a loss.
“It was a great defensive stance by us”, Donovan pointed out.
“They had a play on, we took it away, we matched up really really well, the floor was disheveled, there were 3-4 seconds left.”
But then the scene took shape and followed the same script it has all too many times for Donovan and his team this season.
Stefan Moody, who had just missed the last shot at 1:08, bombed in a three that gave the Rebels a 62-61 lead with three seconds left.
Donovan called a timeout with 2.7 seconds left. Needing to get the length of the court and score in that time, Jacob Kurtz threw a half court inbounds to Dorian Finney-Smith who was immediately smothered by two Rebs. They caused a turnover, the buzzer sounded and one Ole Miss player threw the ball into the air like they’d just won a championship.
The Gators walked to the locker room dejected.
Finney-Smith and Robinson were both just murmuring to themselves like they couldn’t believe it had happened, yet again.
Once in postgame interviews, Murphy could only focus on the last 18 seconds.
“I’m trying to think about other parts of the game but those last two plays are really running though my mind right now.”
“I thought it was a competitive game”, Murphy added.
“Both teams played hard, but the ball just didn’t bounce our way. Right there, story of the [season], same way it’s been all year.”
Even Robinson, who sent the ball down to the Gator end with a minute left, was aware of what might occur.
“I knew something like this could happen”, he sighed, “cause it happened to us before, so we had to strap up and play [defense] but unfortunately the ball didn’t roll our way and we ended up with a loss…I mean it’s definitely getting tough. I think it’s like 5 games we lost by like 2 points. We gonna learn our lesson somehow, we just gotta learn how to finish games.”
The finish here had everything going the Gators way. But as games have shown time and again, a perfect plan doesn’t mean a perfect ending.
Donovan had no choice but to praise Moody.
“They threw it to him, he took one step and just bombed in a shot. That was really the difference so give him credit for knocking down a big shot when his team needed it.”
Asked what the play was coming out of timeout that gave Ole Miss the ball, Carter said it was simple.
“The plan was to get a stop”, he explained. “Make them take a tough shot, which they did, and he made it. I thought we played hard, played with a lot of energy, we defended, guy just made a tough shot at the end.”
Murphy concurred, saying, “We competed, we played hard, the game came down to two plays. We didn’t get a great shot on our last possession which hurt and then I think we did a pretty good job of breaking down their play, Moody just hit a tough shot…gotta give him credit. That was a tough shot.”
According to Donovan, tough doesn’t even begin to describe it.
He opened his postgame with a breakdown of the play.
“I just looked at it in the locker room. He actually shot the ball from the nose of the alligator”, Donovan said, referring to the Gator emblem at half court.
“Seriously. His heels were on the nose of the alligator.”
Joe Tessitore was one of the ESPN announcers calling the night’s game. He seems to have a penance for calling close games in all sports. Fans call it “The Tess Effect”.
Standing on the court long after the teams had cleared out, Tess chuckled and said, “I always get the close ones don’t I? Must be the Tess Effect.”
But the Gators, unfortunately, haven’t needed Joe Tess to create drama for them this season. It’s just happened on it’s own; over and over.
The plot has stayed the same, only the names have changed.
“Chris Chiozza played good defense”, Donovan said when discussing the last Ole Miss possession.
“But how many times are we gonna have to learn at the end of the game, when you switch onto a 3 point shooter, you can not let the offensive player go to you, you gotta go to him, to disrupt it. And Chris was standing right there, and he put his hand right in his face, but rather it be Angel Rodriguez from Miami, whether it be the guard Rivera Smith from Georgetown, whether it’s the guys from UCONN, whether its [Moody], that’s been the difference is guys ability to make shots over our defense in crucial situations.”
Thus has been the story of the season.
Donovan acknowledged as much on Thursday, saying, “This team will have a very very very hard time just to have a winning record this year; very hard time.”
This would mark Donovan’s first losing season since only his second year in Gainesville; the 1997-1998 team finished 14-15.
Now as the postseason draws closer with a bid slipping away, the Gators will have a limited amount of time and double the motivation to rewrite their script.
The next game is Saturday, February 14 versus Texas A&M (16-7, 7-4) in College Station. Tip-off is slated for 6:30 on the SEC Network.