Florida raced out to a big half-time lead and held on at the end to eke out a 52-50 victory over Alabama on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa. The loss by 'Bama was likely a dagger in their NCAA Tournament chances, and possibly a dagger to Coach Anthony Grant's future at the Capstone. The loss dropped 'Bama to 13-7 overall and 3-4 in the SEC. Florida is now 11-8, and 4-3 in the conference. Grant's record against his mentor, Billy Donovan, fell to 0-9. The Tide has now lost 10 straight and 21 of the last 24 against Florida.
The Tide came out with little or no energy, possibly the remnants of a third tough game in the last six days..The Gators steadily built a lead over the Tide thanks to 12 Alabama turnovers and poor 36% shooting (8-22.) Florida shot 50% (13-26) in the first half, including 4-9 from three point range. The Gator lead was 35-22 at the half.
'Bama started Riley Norris over Michael Kessens for the second straight game, partly because of Jimmie Taylor's penchant for early foul trouble. The same scenario played out as Taylor was called for two questionable charge calls in the first two minutes of the game. Kessens replaced Taylor, who sat out the rest of the first half. Florida took advantage of Taylor's absence by exploiting the Tide's lack of inside defense.
The Tide came out with much more spark and enthusiasm in the second half and steadily cut into the Gator lead. 'Bama clamped down on defense, holding Florida to only four points in the first 10 minutes, but could not generate enough offense to take full advantage of the Gator drought.
The Tide finally caught the Gators with 7:49 left when Ricky Tarrant had a steal and layup, tying the score at 41 apiece. On the next possession Florida's Chris Chiozza hit his only basket of the game, a three pointer for a 44-41 Gator lead. Florida built the lead to 50-45 before the Tide got a field goal from Rodney Cooper and then a three pointer from Tarrant to tie the game at 50 with just over two minutes left.
The final two plus minutes was a battle of futility on both sides as each team maintained possession on tie up-jump ball situations. 'Bama couldn't score on their possession as Kessens try at the basket was blocked by Dorian Finney-Smith. On Florida's possession after the tie up,'Bama played good defense for 32 of the 35 seconds on the shot clock, but Finney-Smith drove the lane for an emphatic one handed dunk for the last points of the game. 'Bama called time out with 17.4 seconds left to set up a last ditch effort. Grant said the first option was to get Taylor something at the basket, and secondly to get a good look for Levi Randolph. Taylor was not open and Randolph drove to the basket only to have his layup blocked by Finney-Smith. The ball bounced around as the clock ran out, giving Florida the close victory.
Finney-Smith went the first 39 minutes of the game basically contributing nothing before stepping up with the two blocks and the game winning basket. Eli Carter led the Gators with 13 points and Chris Walker added 12 off of the bench. Cooper scored 14 for the Tide and Tarrant added 13. Kessens led with eight rebounds and scored four points. Randolph had nine points and six rebounds. Taylor played 10 minutes and all he contributed was four fouls (on three charges) with zero points and zero rebounds. For the game 'Bama finished at 18-46 from the field, 6-17 from three point range and 8-12 from the free throw line. Florida was 20-46 from the field, 5-16 from long range and 7-9 from the charity stripe.
Alabama out-rebounded the Gators 30-28, a welcome sight for the worst rebounding team in the conference coming in, and shot more free throws which would typically result in a Tide victory. Alas, tonight it wasn't meant to be. The Tide now travels to Lexington to play the number one ranked Kentucky Wildcats for the second time on the season. The first game was a 70-48 UK blowout win in Tuscaloosa two weeks ago. The game is set for 6 p.m. CT and will be televised on the SEC Network.
Roll Tide Y'all, hang in there.
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