The Florida Gators didn’t come away from Battle 4 Atlantis with the results they were likely hoping for as they finished with a 1-2 record in the tournament.
After turning things around from an opening loss to Oklahoma to get a big win over Stanford on Thursday, the Gators fell to the Butler Bulldogs 61-54 on Friday to earn a sixth-place finish.
Florida led the game early on, but an 11-1 run by Butler from the 12:20 mark all the way to the 5:54 mark of the first half put the Bulldogs up 21-15.
Then, the Gators came together on defense while the three-point shooting picked back up and carried the offense once again. A pair of makes from deep by Andrew Nembhard and one from Deaundrae Ballard (accompanied by a couple of free throws by Kevarrius Hayes) turned the tables to put Florida up by six late in the half.
The Gators would take a 32-27 lead to the locker room with momentum swinging their way.
The advantage quickly went back to the Bulldogs after halftime. Once Butler tied it back less than three minutes into the second half, Florida never could seem to fully recover from it.
The Gators briefly regained the lead a couple of times, but could not go back up after a Kamar Baldwin three made it 47-45 with 10:40 on the clock.
Florida continued to hold up on the defensive end, but this team seems to live and die by the three right now, and that was nonexistent in the final 20 minutes. Florida drained 7 shots from beyond the arc in the first half, but was just 1-for-12 in the second half.
The Bulldogs did not make a single shot from the field over the last 4:35 of the game, but the Gators made just two in that same time frame.
Florida’s best chance late in the game came when KeVaughn Allen quickly took the ball all the way down the court for a layup to make it 58-54 with 28 seconds remaining.
The Bulldogs did what they had to do by making all of their meaningful free throws down the stretch. The Gators got two looks at three-pointers in the next possession, but missed both, and that essentially wrapped things up.
Ballard and Nembhard finished as Florida’s leading scorers with 11 points apiece, but nearly all of those came in the first half. The early spark from that duo was huge and likely would have been enough to secure a win had the youngsters kept it up all night.
Ballard was 4-for-9 from the field and 3-for-6 from three, while Nembhard was 4-for-6 and 3-for-4 from deep. Nembhard also continued to prove his elite passing abilities with seven assists and no turnovers.
The big question mark for the Gators still lies with the veterans. For the second game in a row, Jalen Hudson did not start, and he played just 14 minutes. He and Allen combined for a miserable 5 points.
Florida has a lot of young talent, but the Butler game was another example of a desparate need for production from the more experienced players.
Head coach Mike White said he would learn a lot about his team after the trip to the Bahamas, and he did, but much of it was not positive. The Gators have a lot of work to do as they now return home and get ready for a matchup with North Florida on Tuesday.
Florida and Butler will meet for a rematch in Gainesville on Dec. 29 in the final game before SEC play tips off.