It was not quite business as usual for the Florida Gators Tuesday night, as they suffered just their 2nd loss of the SEC season and their 4th loss overall in a road game against the Missouri Tigers. The Gators looked to have the game in hand, leading throughout, often with a comfortable margin, but the Tigers ended the game on a 10-3 run to steal the game away from Florida in the final minute.
For Florida, it was a rare appearance in a close game, as the Gators were winning their conference games by an average of 23 points heading into their trip to Missouri, including a 31-point win over the Tigers a month ago. If nothing else, the Gators can take away the experience of playing in a close game, something they’ve been lacking in their dominance this season, but something they will have to become accustomed to if they expect to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Toward the end of regulation, Florida looked like a team that was a bit surprised to be playing in such a close game. They looked stunned at Missouri’s late run and their offense turned erratic and selfish when they needed a basket late in the game. Scottie Wilbekin did make a step-back three that looked like it would be enough to win, despite not being the ideal shot, but after Missouri took the lead, Kenny Boynton launched a deep and off-balanced shot that he forced up a few seconds before he had to, which sealed the win for Missouri. Although Wilbekin made his shot, it was obvious from those two shots that Florida needs to work on its late-game offense. In previous years, Florida had more scoring-oriented point guards, which made it easier to attack in such situations, but Wilbekin is less adept at breaking down defenses by himself, which will force the Gators to readjust their late-game offense in the future.
Aside from their end of the game struggles, Florida fell short against Missouri in two places: perimeter shooting and rebounding. On the season, Florida is making close to 40% of its three-point attempts, but connected on just 10 of 33 shots form beyond the arc against Missouri, as Boynton, Mike Rosario, and Erik Murphy all had off nights shooting the ball. On the boards, Florida was out-rebounded by nine, as Patric Young had his hands full with Missouri’s inside tandem of Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi. Things got worse when Young wasn’t on the floor, as Florida was exposed for a lack of size and strength inside. Although Florida shouldn’t worry too much about cold shooting nights being a frequent problem for them, a lack of frontcourt depth behind Young could create matchup problems for them later in the season.
Ultimately, this is nothing more than a bump in the road for the Gators. They have two losses in SEC play, both coming on the road to teams that have combined for one home loss all season. A road loss to Missouri will certainly not taint their NCAA tournament resume and their bid for a number one seed. To say they were exposed would be an overreaction, but the Gators will certainly be brought back down to earth by the setback, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Florida will also be able to see areas where they need improving, and being able to address those areas will only make them a stronger team going forward.