Three Takeaways From Florida's 78-71 Loss To Mississippi State
Maybe Baylor was just really good.
That was the justification on Saturday night when Florida basketball was thoroughly handled at home by No. 1-ranked Baylor. Despite being favored, it was understandable to lose by double digits to the Bears, they are the top-rated team in the country for a reason. As frustrating as it may seem to fans, it made sense.
This game doesn't.
UF started out piping hot against Mississippi State on Tuesday at the O'Connell Center. Freshman Scottie Lewis was on a mission to prove to everyone he was worth the five-star recruiting hype. A 13-point first half from Lewis spearheaded a 45-35 lead when the first half concluded. Was it time?
Was it time for Lewis to take that next step and become something special? Was it time for Florida basketball to knock the awful taste out of its mouth from the Baylor loss? Was it time to start a late-season run?
It wasn't. The second half was far from a sign of any type of run in the coming games. It was quite the opposite. The Gators lost the second half by an embarrassing 43-26 to lose the game ultimately 78-71. Starting with this game, the schedule got easier, yet the record got worse.
Other than this being disappointing, there are a few takeaways. Here are a few things we learned about this Florida team.
Scottie Lewis can be special, but will he ever be?
Everyone has said it all season. The five-star freshman from New Jersey has one of the highest ceilings of anyone in college basketball, literally and figuratively. He can bounce out of the gym and as he showed tonight, is capable of an explosion at any time.
However, the second half was more of what he has shown throughout the season: just okay. Whether that is because coach Mike White is not giving him enough freedom, or his offensive game just isn't there yet, or he is genuinely not much more than a defensive specialist is up to interpretation, but the time is running out.
The time is running out to fix that. With every passing game, it becomes less likely that we will see the Lewis everybody pictured when he committed to Florida.
The more crucial the moment, the worse this team is
Guard Noah Locke got a defensive rebound. He took off down the court with the Gators down 70-66 with just over 2:40 left. This was a must-have possession for Florida, with time winding down and momentum seemingly gone, it was a shot to make it a one-possession game.
Locke hesitated just inside the three-point line as if he were about to pull up from mid-range. But before he could corral the ball, it bounced off his foot.
Out of bounds. Turnover. Mississippi State ball.
That play was a microcosm of UF's season in close contests.
For whatever reason, outside of the overtime thriller against Alabama in early January, this team can't make clutch plays. A huge reason for the loss against Mississippi State and other losses throughout the year is boneheaded mistakes down the stretch when it counts. In a league as competitive as the SEC, you're not going to win very often when that happens.
Kerry Blackshear Jr. is very good, but not great
The graduate transfer from Virginia Tech had as much hype as Lewis heading into this season. A big man with that type of skillset was something Florida fans hadn't seen since the Joakim Noah and Al Horford days.
But those guys were great.
Blackshear is an excellent player. He makes smart passes, has good footwork and shoots well most of the time. But he isn't great. He isn't a guy that will completely take over a game and win it for you despite everyone around him lacking.
The preseason SEC Player of the Year will certainly not win the award when it's actually given out. The Gators needed "special" in Blackshear, so far they have gotten 'pretty good".