In an absolute thriller in Tampa, the Gators battled from a double-digit second-half deficit to force overtime, but in the extra frame their magic ran out and the Texas A&M Aggies came away with an 83- 80. With the loss, Florida is shut out of the SEC tournament and has almost certainly seen its NCAA tournament bubble burst. As we’ve seen in many games this season, the Gators showed absolute determination and heart, wiping out major second-half deficits where they could have lay down and died, but still a time, the hole they dug themselves was too much.
When regulation ended, the Aggies led by 7 with 52 seconds remaining, making a Texas A&M win inevitable. However, a few Gators weren’t going to let that happen. A steal from Tuon Gatkek in the full field press gave the Gators some extra possession they needed and an incredible shot from Kowacie Reeves was able to tie the game and give the Gators a second life. First it was a four-point play where he made contact after a false push, sidestep three, and then it was a contested pull from the left corner that few college basketball players could. do that he drilled to even the game and force an extra frame.
In overtime, the Gators were leading by two when a controversial call took place. The Aggies were coming from the baseline when a sloppy pass was knocked down and initially called out of bounds by TAMU. However, after a conference between the umpires, they called a foul on Phlandrous Fleming and the Aggies went to the line where they hit two free throws, tying the game in the final minute. At the other end of the field with the game tied, Phlandrous Fleming had his number called and fired a pull up three in a row. He missed badly, and the ball was stuck between the rim and the backboard and the possession arrow was pointing the direction of Texas A&M.
On final possession, Hassan Diarra hit a three with 0.4 seconds left, winning the game and moving the Aggies forward.
Microcosm of a season
In many ways, this SEC Tournament game was a perfect microcosm of the season. They struggled to shoot threes (21%) and turned the ball an alarming amount (18 times) which have been problems all year, and they also struggled to get defensive rebounds. keys that would have changed the complexion of the game. On the bright side, once again, we saw the Gators battle for a deficit that many teams couldn’t have fought. There’s something often poetic about post-season play where a team’s greatest struggles and greatest strengths are both brought to light and that’s exactly what happened in this one- this.
Florida shuffled their rosters throughout the year, never completely sold out on a regular rotation, and that was the case again in the SEC tournament. Within the first 10 minutes of the game, the Gators had already gone to two different rosters who hadn’t played together all season, an example of how much they were looking for answers. The reason they fell out was that they started the game with an early deficit, possibly because their starting lineup of…
… had struggled throughout the SEC game.
In the end, Florida’s top two players were two unlikely heroes. For starters, it was rookie Kowacie Reeves who had a career game with 21 points and 6 rebounds. Along with his huge three-pointers that tied the game in regulation, he had key buckets to bring the Gators back earlier in the second half and he also started Florida’s score in overtime with a tough and-1. Reeves looks like an absolute star and he showed why against the Aggies.
Sophomore Niels Lane also had a career night with 16 points and 9 rebounds while providing elite defense at the other end. You always know Lane is going to bring excellence defensively, but his offense has often been a question, despite stepping up in a big way with 16 effective points. Lane had powerful hoop drives and trick finishes, alongside a pure three-pointer that was huge for his confidence.
Unfortunately, the situation around these players who had career nights was due to the difficulty of some veteran players, but it was great to see the talents of these two on display.
Florida’s comeback was a sight to behold, but they were late at the time for a reason, playing sloppy at both ends of the court and putting themselves in a situation where they had to scramble to come back and make some a match. It never seemed like the Gators knew what style of play they wanted to use or what lineups would make the ideal rotation. Still looking for these things so late, that explains why this team finished 9th in the SEC and was unfortunately kicked out of the tournament after their first game.
Florida will not participate in the NCAA tournament unless absolute madness occurs, and they will now have a decision to make whether their host of veteran players wants to participate in the NIT or not.