Turnovers, rebounding woes sink Gators in loss to Alabama

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how the Gators lost to No. 15 Alabama in their SEC opener on Wednesday. Everything you need to know about the game can be found in three statistical categories.

First, Florida turned the ball over 20 times, which Alabama converted into 21 points. Alabama only turned it over 12 times.

Second, the Crimson Tide hauled down 20 offensive rebounds, while the Gators only obtained 15 second-chance opportunities.

Those two statistical categories led to an astonishing discrepancy in the number of shot attempts. Alabama shot the ball 72 times, while Florida only got off 52 shots.

UF actually outshot Alabama, 42.3 percent to 40.3 percent, but the vast difference in the number of shot attempts proved decisive. When the final horn sounded, Alabama picked up a rather comfortable 83-70 victory over Florida.

“Early second half, our energy level coming out of the locker room was not correct,” UF coach Mike White said. “Theirs was. They threw the first few punches of the second half. Live-ball turnovers killed us. Twenty offensive rebounds, 20 turnovers, live-ball turnovers against these guys is not a good recipe for success. And then, defensive transition, even in a couple possessions, were misses early second half. We did not include the amount of communication and intensity that’s needed to stop these guys in transition offense. Had a couple miscues based on Alabama’s defense.

“But, the 20 offensive rebounds and the 20 turnovers are hard to beat anyone in this league.”

Forward Juwan Gary scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Crimson Tide, while Jahvon Quinerly matched him with 19 points and also notched five rebounds and five assists. Jaden Shackleford (14), Keon Ellis (13) and Charles Bediako (11) joined them in double figures.

Center Colin Castleton powered the Gators with 19 points and seven rebounds. Reserve forward CJ Felder posted a season-high 12 points and a season-high six rebounds, and guard Myreon Jones recovered from a rough first half to score 11 points and pull down seven rebounds.

UF (9-4, 0-1 SEC) used a strong first half by its frontcourt – they outscored Alabama by six points in the paint and won the rebounding battle by two – to head into the locker room with a 39-36 lead over the reigning SEC regular season and tournament champions.

New football coach Billy Napier got the near-capacity crowd of 10,210 even more jacked up with a speech at halftime.

And yet, somehow, Alabama (11-3, 2-0) was the team that played like they had all of the momentum to start the second half.

The Crimson Tide opened the half on a 22-4 run over the first 8:12 of the period. The Gators went 0-for-9 from the field and turned it over seven times during that stretch. The surge helped Alabama build a 58-43 lead that felt insurmountable at the time.

“We’ve got to come out in the second half throwing haymakers like we did at the tip of the game,” White said. “I loved our energy level at the tip. I thought we played really hard for 20. For whatever reason, in the first minutes of the second half, we just looked a little flat. But, of course, they had something to do with that.

“They were just playing a lot better than us early second half. So, some of the energy level is because of that, and some of that is because of the energy level. Then, all these guys, we’re all human. When you see that thing go in, it’s a little bit easier. It shouldn’t be, and we’re going to continue to preach that. If we had gotten a score or two early second half, it may have been different for us. They may not have built the lead that they did.”

Eventually, though, the Gators caught fire offensively. They made nine of their final 17 shots, including five of 12 three-pointers. A trio of made threes by Jones, plus a couple of layups by Castleton and a three ball by Felder, cut the deficit to 66-61 with just more than six minutes to go.

The crowd got back into it, the Gators played with emotion, and it felt like they just might find a way to steal a resume-building win.

Ultimately, though, they just couldn’t string together enough stops or take care of the ball well enough to go on a big run.

Quinerly beat them for a layup to make it a seven-point game. A bad pass by Tyree Appleby led to a fastbreak dunk for Ellis. After Florida’s Anthony Duruji made a free throw, Shackleford buried a three.

Just like that, it was an 11-point game again with 4:33 to go.

Then Brandon McKissic knocked down a three and Castleton threw down a dunk to make it 73-67 with 3:07 remaining.

That would be as close as Florida got the rest of the way.

Gary made two layups and a dunk on back-to-back-to-back Alabama possessions to make it 79-68 with 1:34 left. The Crimson Tide cruised to victory from there.

For a half, the Gators went blow for blow with one of the best teams in the SEC and in the country. Unfortunately, in what has become something of a recurring theme this season, they weren’t able to put together two good halves.

“We just didn’t have that grit we had in the first half,” Jones said. “We got out-hustled. They were more physical than us, and we just can’t have that. That’s what we talked about at halftime going into the second half, and we just didn’t do it.”

While the Gators’ time off due to a COVID-19 outbreak last week calls their conditioning into question, they refused to use that as an excuse after the game. They’ve had the majority of their team practicing since Saturday, and there didn’t seem to be anybody gasping for air on the bench. They just simply didn’t maintain their competitive edge for the duration of the game.

White said the loss of energy and focus falls on his shoulders, and he’s eager to learn what went wrong.

“Sometimes, it’s as simple as execution, offensively and defensively,” he said. “I think this team is emotional at times. It’s a hurdle that we’ve got to overcome. It’s a positive for us at times, and it’s a negative at times. I think this team is very competitive, and, when things are going well for us, we tend to play better and execute better.

“But, when we face some adversity, we’ve got to be better with how we handle that adversity, whether it’s a call, whether it’s a late-clock score by the opponent, a missed hit or, ‘Oh, Coach is about to get on me,’ stuff like that. We’ve got to play with emotion, but we’ve got to be a little bit less emotional.”

Ethan Hughes
Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and also wrote for InsideTheGators.com for two years before joining Gator Country in 2021. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. You can follow him on Twitter @ethanhughes97.