Wednesday night’s home game against the No. 12 LSU Tigers looked like it was going to play out the same way as the previous two losses to Alabama and Auburn. The Tigers dominated the early going, scoring a basket right after the tip, and they didn’t let up after that for a while. They led by as much as 14 in the first half, and it looked like the Gators were dead in the water.
Florida managed to storm back with the benefit of several LSU starters landing in foul trouble, getting within one point in the final minutes, but the deficit ultimately proved too much to overcome. UF lost against the NET’s No. 3 team 64-58 in a game that they never led, falling to 0-3 in conference play for the first time in 40 years.
As the Gators still search for their first SEC win, here are three takeaways from another squandered opportunity.
Florida couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities LSU handed it
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LSU’s defense is known for its aggressiveness, and against a Florida offensive attack that is prone to turnovers and isn’t particularly effective when it comes to shooting, that seemed like a recipe for disaster for the Gators. But this strategy actually kind of backfired, as it landed the Tigers in foul trouble early in the game.
They committed 21 fouls compared to UF’s 10, and that resulted in LSU’s leading scorer and rebounder Tari Eason fouling out in the opening minutes of the second half. Later in the frame, center Efton Reid fouled out as well. However, even with those guys unavailable, the Gators couldn’t wrest back control.
One major reason for that was their ineffectiveness from the free-throw line. Florida was gifted 22 opportunities from the charity stripe, but it only made 11 of those. In a game where the margin was just six points, that’s something that will likely haunt the Gators as they reflect on what went wrong in this one. Had they been able to hit just 75% of their shots from the line, this could have been an entirely different ball game.
The Gators didn’t have an answer for Darius Day
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Eason left the game after totaling just six points and one rebound, his most pedestrian performance in a while after scoring in double figures in the last seven contests. Reid was even less productive before fouling out, netting just two points and three rebounds, and starting point guard Xavier Pinson missed this game after suffering a knee injury in the Tigers’ last outing against Tennessee.
But even with all three of those playmakers being out or limited, the Gators didn’t defend well enough to win, mostly due to the efforts of Tigers forward Darius Day. He led the team with 20 points and hit nine of his 14 shots from the field while also netting six rebounds.
Florida also gave up 15 points to guard Eric Gaines, who was inserted into the starting lineup in this one for Pinson while also allowing guard Brandon Murray to score in double figures with 10 points. The Tigers shot 50% from the field in this game, including an 11 of 20 mark in the second half. For a UF defense that looked like one of the best in the nation earlier this season, it’s inexplicable how much it’s struggling now even against a shorthanded LSU team.
Still no offense outside of Colin Castleton
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If there is a bright spot from Florida’s first two games of SEC play, it’s been the performances from center Colin Castleton, at least on offense. He led the team in scoring once again in this one with 19 points on 7 of 10 shooting, and he nearly netted a double-double with nine rebounds. With that being said, he needs to play a bit better defensively. While he had three blocks, the Tigers found a lot of success inside, scoring 42 of their points in the paint.
Outside of Castleton though, there isn’t much to speak of on offense. Phlandrous Fleming Jr. scored 11 in this one, and though he was just 4 of 11 from the field, he was at least the only Gator that could consistently hit the three-ball. He connected on three of his eight attempts from long range, but as a team, Florida was abysmal.
Even without two of its key players in the frontcourt, LSU managed to force Florida to go to the outside shots, where it hit just seven of its 31 (!) attempts from three-point land. We’ve seen UF struggle from downtown this year, especially in recent contests, but it’s hard to understand why it continued to lob up threes in this one, especially at the rate it was connecting on them.
Myreon Jones was the next leading scorer with nine points, but he mostly relied on the free-throw line as he was just 2 of 12 shooting. However, he still made just three of his six shots from the line, and for someone who is supposed to be a spot-up shooter, he’s struggling to get involved offensively. Anthony Duruji had about average production in this one, scoring eight points, though he only netted two rebounds.
Castleton is a dominant center in the SEC, but as long as Florida is relying on him almost exclusively for its scoring, it will struggle to take down much more well-rounded teams, as we’ve seen so far in conference play.