Sophomore guard Chris Chiozza stole the Texas A&M inbounds pass and looked up at the clock. With just five seconds left in the game and the Florida Gators down three, Chiozza dribbled, pulling up behind the three-point line and fired away.
His shot clanged off the rim and into the hands of Anthony Collins, who held on to the ball to secure the Aggies’ third win in Southeastern Conference play.
The game might have been officially over on Chiozza’s missed three but Florida lost the game on the free throw line and with careless ball security.
The No. 21 ranked Aggies forced Florida to turn the ball over 16 times, converting that into 21 points.
“You get them out on the floor, off of poor decisions from us offensively, it didn’t give us a chance,” head coach Mike White said. “I say that, we had chances late, but you come over here with 10, 11, 12 turnovers, you might be sitting here with a win.”
The turnovers spoiled yet another double-double from senior forward Dorian Finney Smith (17 points, 12 rebounds) and a career-high 16 points from transfer Justin Leon. The turnovers weren’t expected. The Gators turned the ball over just six times in a home win over LSU and were the SEC’s best team, coughing the ball up just 10.4 times per game heading into College Station.
Florida’s 4-12 shooting from the charity stripe, however, was as expected as it was unwelcome and has the Gators’ first year head coach searching for answers to a question he’s never seen before.
Maybe we just stop taking them in practice, altogether,” White said about his team’s performance at the line. “I’m not sure. In my guys’ defense, it’s not for a lack of effort or lack of reps. To come on the road and beat a good team in the SEC, you’ve got to shoot a higher percentage than that, 33 percent.”
The Gators are one of the worst teams in the entire country at the free throw line, converting just 61% (225-371) of their attempts on the year.
The box score will show that a young Florida team went on the road and narrowly lost to a top-20 team in the country, filled with veterans. The Gators played with intensity and pushed a better team to the brink on Tuesday night but it’s the fundamentals of the game that did them in. Missing free throws at the rate that Florida is this season is inexcusable and Florida won’t be dancing in March if they keep walking to the line with two left feet.