Dru Smith takes the ball at the wing as the clock ticks down past seven seconds remaining. Making a move to the outside hip of Tre Mann, Smith gets baseline with an opportunity at a game-winning shot.
Lifting off from the floor, Smith maneuvers his way through a trio of help-side defenders, barely able to escape the block attempt of Anthony Duruji. Going up and under for the game-sealing bucket, Smith kisses the ball off the glass, watching it hit the front of the rim before tickling the twine as the Tigers take a two-point lead with 0.7 seconds remaining.
Capped off with an antagonistic Gator chomp, Missouri would thwart the Florida comeback attempts to get back in the win column with a much-needed victory, 72 to 70.
Following a big win against Kentucky on the road, the Gators returned home to take on what looked to be a Missouri team limping into the final stretch of the season. Losing four of their last five games, the Tigers had struggled to maintain the momentum that had them ranked tenth in college basketball just a short time ago.
Characteristically ineffective coming off of a statement win, Mike White’s squad produced a solid performance offensively that was derailed by 25 Mizzou points off 18 UF turnovers.
Here are three takeaways from the contest.
The inability to neutralize Missouri on the offense glass derailed Florida’s chances to comeback
Florida may have won the rebounding battle 28 to 26, but Missouri dominated on the offensive glass.
Tallying a whopping 11 offensive rebounds on the evening, the Tigers consistently found themselves with a multitude of second-chance opportunities that they would use to take down the Gators in the O'Connell Center.
Out-rebounding the Gators on the offensive end 11 to 4, Missouri made their way to a victory capitalizing upon Florida’s self-inflicted wounds.
With discombobulation being a norm throughout the night, Missouri’s ball movement created a number of open looks for the Tigers' offense and often resulted in multiple uncontested shots. As a result, multiple Florida defenders would put up efforts to close out, leading to a number of freelancers in the paint being able to secure loose balls off the rim.
Accounting for nine points off second-chance points, the Gators were given a break compared to what could have been the final outcome. However, these unwarranted points resulted in the Tigers reigning victorious.
The Gators shot the basketball extremely well
58.1 percent from the field. 35.4 percent from three. 83.3 percent from the line.
If anything can be taken away from the disheartening Gators' loss, it’s the shooting efficiency that they produced.
Going into the matchup against Missouri, Florida had been searching to regain the same shooting stroke that they had during their four-game winning streak to end January.
Finding their groove early on, Florida put together a 7-0 out of the gate to get the ball rolling against the Tigers, a run that would kickstart a hot shooting performance all around. Heavily influenced by the big-time performances of Mann, Tyree Appleby and Noah Locke, who combined for 62.8 percent (44) of the Gators points on the evening, Rainesville was in full effect from start to finish on Billy Donovan court.
Knocking down 25 shots on 43 attempts, Florida’s near 60 percent shooting performance allowed them to keep close with a Missouri team that constantly seemed to overcome the comeback attempts the Gators were trying to put together. Scoring on 52 percent of their possessions on the night (32 for 62), Florida scored 1.129 points per possession en route to a 70-point outing.
The ability for this squad to put the basketball in the bucket is unquestioned, but the inability to do it on a consistent basis reigns supreme when discussing this year's teams.
There was a void in Florida’s frontcourt
In recent memory, the Florida Gators have heavily emphasized their big men's usage and been reliant on their performance to produce victories.
This season, a more balanced approach has been employed, understanding the talent they currently have at the guard positions.
Employing Appleby, Mann and Locke at the one, two and three, the unit is in a position to find success from beyond the arc while also dribble drive penetration to find easy buckets for the big men or kick-outs to the perimeter.
However, on Wednesday night, the storyline reigned as the trio of guards dominating the show, while the Gators big men of Duruji, Colin Castleton and Omar Payne, proved non-factors on both ends of the court.
Despite combining for 16 points on the evening, the Florida frontcourt saw its fair share of troubles scoring the basketball throughout the night. The center position was held without a made field goal in the first half while recording just four rebounds to contribute to a seven-point halftime deficit.
The play for the unit was uncharacteristic — and unlikely one that will continue — but if Florida looks to continue forward for any substantial period in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, the production from the towering bodies will be paramount.
It’s not a call for them to run the show but to balance out the skilled attack of the Mann-led guards to find sustainability.
Florida will close out the regular season in Knoxville against Tennessee on Saturday.