The Florida Gators came close, but fell just short in the opening game of Battle 4 Atlantis against the Oklahoma Sooners on Wednesday.
Both halves told nearly the same tale in the 65-60 loss.
Florida took an early 5-2 lead with a Keith Stone three-pointer, but Oklahoma took its first lead at the 13:33 mark and would eventually go up 24-13 with a 12-2 run. The Gators were sloppy with three turnovers in that four-minute frame.
But all was not lost as Andrew Nembhard, KeVaughn Allen, Dontay Bassett and Keyontae Johnson all hit threes to bring it back within a point with just under four minutes left in the half.
The Sooners stretched the lead back to five, but Noah Locke drained his first three ball, then went on to get a steal on defense and Allen dunked it on the fast break to tie it back up at 30.
Oklahoma took a 32-30 lead to the locker room, but as poorly as Florida played in the first 20 minutes, trailing by two points was favorable.
The Sooners were the first to strike in the second half before Keith Stone scored five straight points to give the Gators a 35-34 lead with 17:30 to go. Jalen Hudson forced a turnover and found Nembhard for a layup on the other end to go up by three.
That wouldn’t last long as the Sooners regained their advantage less than two minutes later. Oklahoma then used an 11-0 run on a 4:42 Florida scoring drought to make it 45-37.
Bassett really started to come alive around that time as he ended the drought and scored seven straight points for the Gators. Then, Locke came up with a big three to cut it all the way back to 48-47.
That’s about how the rest of the game would go. Florida would surge back and come so close, but then Oklahoma would make a couple big plays and start the whole process over again.
The Sooners led by nine with 3:38 on the clock before a pair of three-pointers from Allen and Locke made it a game again at 63-60.
Florida made some defensive stops to keep hopes alive, but simply couldn’t make anything happen on offense from that point on.
In the end, all Oklahoma had to do was sink a pair of free throws to seal the deal.
And that was something Florida couldn’t seem to do all game. The Gators made just 3 of 11 free throw attempts on the day for an abysmal 39.3 percent, while the Sooners were 11-for-15 from the line.
On top of that, Florida was outrebounded by a physical Oklahoma team 48-34 and gave up 15 offensive boards.
“That was the other big factor,” said head coach Mike White. “The way we shot the free throw and the way we defended the glass. If we’re just better in one of those two areas, maybe the outcome would’ve been different.”
Offensively, the Gators were good at times but never found any kind of consistency. The 11 made three-pointers were the most Florida has had all season and were really what kept the Sooners from making it a bloodbath.
The real disappointment was the lack of production from Hudson, who had just 4 points and played only 21 minutes, and only a few spurts from Allen as he scored 10.
This team was expected to have the tools to really shoot it, but that just hasn’t shown up yet this season.
“We’re not very good offensively right now, and that’s all on me,” White said. “That’s all on me. We’ve tried to take advantage of depth and interchangeable parts and run a lot of different stuff, and it has backfired on us. We can’t seem to find a very good rhythm calling guys’ numbers at different times. Maybe that’s not what’s in the best interest of this team, so I’m going to continue to reevaluate every single day. I’m gonna take ownership over that. I’ve gotta do a better job of putting these guys in better position.”
A couple of bright spots were the clutch shooting from Locke as a freshman, as he went 3-for-6 from beyond the arc, and Stone finally waking up a little bit with 10 points and a team-high 7 rebounds.
But nothing was better to see than the emergence of Bassett. His career-best and team-leading 14 points (6-for-8 from the field, 2-for-3 from deep) in 16 minutes were huge for keeping the Gators alive.
Bassett hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time so far this season and those were his first points of the year, but a performance like that should earn him some more opportunities.
“Dontay is continuing to get better,” White said. “He works, he’s competitive, he likes contact. He’s a guy that’s spent a lot of time in the gym working on his stroke.”
Now, the Gators must move on with a quick turnaround in the tournament. Florida will play again on Thanksgiving Day at 7 p.m. in a loser’s bracket game against either Stanford or Wisconsin.