It’s all over.
There will be no Sweet 16 overtime magic shots for the Florida Gators this season. Those hopes came to an end with a 69-66 loss to No. 3 seed Texas Tech in the Round of 32 on Saturday night.
It was obvious no team was going to run away with the game from the very start and it would likely come down to the final minute.
The Gators and Red Raiders tied three different times over the first three and a half minutes before Florida took its first lead and went up 11-9 after the first media timeout.
Texas Tech briefly regained it on a Keenan Evans three pointer, but Florida proceeded to go on a 7-0 run over the next minute of play, and just like that, had an 18-12 lead.
The Gators had answers for all of the Red Raiders’ counters over the next few minutes as they continued to lead 26-19 at the 9:47 mark in the half.
Then, the inevitable drought came. Florida did not score a single point for more than five minutes while Texas Tech made easy work of a 14-2 run and went up by three points.
The Gators would work back to take a 33-32 lead to halftime as Egor Koulechov got a tip in on a missed Chris Chiozza jumper with the final seconds on the clock ticking off.
The game of runs did not stop in the second half.
Chiozza went to the bench with his third foul just over a minute into the half, and Texas Tech took advantage by taking its biggest lead of the night to that point, 38-33.
With Chiozza out, Hudson put his team on his back and scored eight of Florida’s next 10 points. That stretch worked the Gators back into a 43-40 advantage.
Hudson picked up his third foul with 14:36 remaining, but did enough to keep Florida competitive while Chiozza sat out.
Not many calls were going in Florida’s favor, and it showed as Chiozza was called for his fourth foul just 23 seconds after reentering the game.
With 13 minutes to still be played, that meant the Gators would either have to gamble on losing their most meaningful player or sit him a little longer and hope things didn’t fall apart.
Just a minute later, it was back to a tie game.
The teams went back and forth again for a few more minutes, but once Florida started putting up silly contested three point attempts early in the shot clock, it was a sign that things were headed in the wrong direction.
The Red Raiders were up 58-50 with 7:53 to go before the Gators finally started showing signs of life again.
Kevarrius Hayes grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back in to end the drought.
Finally back in the game, Chiozza stole it on the other end and got fouled, or at least put a performance on to make it look like he got fouled. Either way, he made it to the free throw line and brought Florida within four points of the lead.
With two chances at the free throw line in less than a minute, Hudson had a chance to tie the game, but he made just two of his four attempts.
He came up clutch with a jumper to make it a three-point game with four minutes left, but Texas Tech answered right back.
Hudson drove in for a layup on Florida’s next possession and got fouled. He completed the three-point play, the Gators got a stop on the other end and Allen found Koulechov for a layup in transition to tie it back at 64 all with 3:03 on the clock.
Evans followed it up with a momentum-killing three for the Red Raiders before both teams went cold offensively over the next couple minutes.
That was until Texas Tech attempted to put the nail in the coffin with an alley oop dunk with 29 seconds left.
Chiozza took his senior season into his own hands as he quickly got down the court for a layup to once again make it a one-possession game.
Now, the Red Raiders had possession with the shot clock turned off and a three-point lead. The Gators either had to foul or force a turnover, and surprisingly, they were able to do the latter.
Evans had a near perfect night for Texas Tech, but Hudson managed to steal it from him on the inbounds play to give Florida another shot at it.
Chiozza set up Koulechov with the perfect look from three, but he seemingly froze and did not take a confident shot.
He missed, but Keith Stone got up for the offensive rebound and gave KeVaughn Allen time for one more shot from the corner. It looked like it had a chance, but bounced off the rim, ending Florida’s NCAA Tournament run.
After eight ties and 12 lead changes, the Red Raiders came away victorious.
“We got the turnover we needed,” Koulechov said. “I was kind of ready to shoot there in the corner. I bobbled the ball a little bit, and then I saw the guy kind of fell down or kind of trip. That threw me off. It was a good look … Sometimes you hit those shots. I didn’t come through for my team today, but you know, just how it is sometimes. Earlier in the year, we hit some big-time ones, and we just couldn’t come through today.”
Mike White came under some scrutiny for not calling a timeout in the end as the Gators got the ball with 18 seconds left and the season hanging on the ropes. He said he went back and forth on the decision in his mind, but still felt confident he made the right call.
“They’re terrific defensively, and we had a good offensive lineup out there,” he said. “The ball is in Chris Chiozza’s hands with the floor spread, and I’m not sure we would have drawn up anything better than the couple looks we got.”
The tight officiating in the game allowed for no rhythm to form on either side. Florida was called for 18 personal fouls, with 11 coming in the second half, and Texas Tech picked up 14 in the second half after just two in the first.
White said he didn’t think it was a huge factor in the game overall, but it’s hard to look past it when the player who makes the team function only gets 27 minutes and has to be careful not to be too aggressive and foul in most of those minutes.
Florida simply didn’t look like the same team with Chiozza out of the game, and he will be extremely difficult to replace next season.
White got a little emotional talking about the careers of his two seniors coming to an end following the game.
“This is a very tough night for myself and my staff as we lose these two guys to my left [Chiozza and Koulechov], who have meant a lot to this program, to this team, but more importantly to this program, two guys who are terrific players and better people, two of the toughest guys in college basketball,” he said. “If all 13 of my guys were as tough as these two, we’d still be playing. Some of those young guys are going to continue to develop, but these guys pound for pound are absolute warriors.”
In the end, Hudson put up 23 points, Koulechov had 12 and Chiozza finished with 11 while Stone grabbed a team-high 10 boards, but none of that was enough to overcome the Red Raiders.
Florida came into the season with Final Four expectations on its back. It didn’t quite meet those lofty goals, but it is a team that grew tremendously over the course of the season and proved there is a lot to look forward to in the coming years.