Gators Drop Heartbreaker to 15-Seed Oral Roberts

Despite holding an 11-point lead in the second half the Gators weren’t able to hold off the Cinderella Oral Roberts Golden Eagles who out-executed Florida in the clutch and came away with a 81-78 win. The Gators led for most of the ball game but saw things start to slip away in the second stanza and were never able to stop the bleeding. Oral Roberts, who was playing with superb confidence, got everything out of their 6 man rotation and simply made better plays down the stretch and for that reason they’ll now be competing in the Sweet Sixteen. Florida looked shell shocked for the final minutes of the game and unfortunately their lack of poise was their undoing.

 

Defensive Breakdowns

 

Oral Roberts is an outstanding offensive basketball team and the Gators had no answers for their potent scoring ability on Sunday. They shot 46% from the field and were at 1.12 points per possession, a number that will win you a game on most nights. What made their offense so special is how well they played through Kevin Obanor (28 points) and Max Abmas (26 points, 7 assists). The ball stayed in the hands of their two leaders for most of the game and that meant they maximized every possession and made sure their best scorers were in the position to finish plays. The Gators tried switching man to man, 1-3-1 zone, and a match up zone, and none of these options seemed to deter Obanor or Abmas. 

 

Old Habits Die Hard

 

For Florida, turnovers have been a major issue the whole season. Playing against Oral Roberts, a team that doesn’t even force that many turnovers, Florida’s biggest achilles heel hurt them once again. The Gators turned the ball over a whopping 20 times, which devastated them in a number of ways. First of all, it meant they couldn’t actually get shots to the rim which was unfortunate because they were shooting 55% from the field. On the other hand, it allowed Oral Roberts transition opportunities that they were able to cash in on. Florida’s inability to stop Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor might have been the largest reason Florida lost, but their turnover issues were right there as a close second.

 

Foul Discrepancy

 

Oral Roberts ended the game with 23 free throws while Florida only had 9. The officials drew the criticism of Florida fans throughout the game, but you also have to give credit to Oral Roberts who had the two best scorers on Sunday who got Florida out of position and caught reaching. The 23 free throws resulted in some easy, efficient points for the Golden Eagles who definitely didn’t need them given how well they were scoring the ball regularly. 

 

Slowing It Down

 

When the Gators had a double-digit lead, they started to take the air out of the ball and slow the game down. This took them out of their rhythm from a faster pace that was working in the first half, and it made for missed shots and the chance for Oral Roberts to get back into the game. The decision to slow the game down was a curious one as the Gators haven’t been the kind of team to execute well when playing slowly, and ultimately the decision bit them.

 

Final Thoughts

 

This was an absolute heartbreaking loss for the Gators, and not because it was to a 15-seed. They had a complete handle on the game, and let it slide. They let a team that doesn’t create turnovers turn them over, they let a team that doesn’t offensive rebound get offensive rebounds, and they let a team that doesn’t get to the free throw line that much get points over and over at the charity stripe. It was a disappointing performance by the Gators and a disappointing way to end their season.

 

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.

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