Florida Gators basketball falls big in COMO

The Florida Gators basketball team (10-5, 2-1) got behind early and could never recover as they fell 75-91 to the Missouri Tigers (9-6, 1-2) on Saturday night in Columbia, Missouri.

The Gators had a short road turn around following a win over South Carolina in the Palmetto Columbia on Tuesday night. Head coach Mike White and staff changed the entire schedule to avoid any exhaustion or ailment, electing to spend two nights in Missouri to get rest while avoiding weather, and even leaving forward Dontay Basset at home. The big man was sick and stayed in Gainesville to recover while the team traveled.

It’s unlikely any additional body would have made a difference however, as the Tigers dominated Florida in nearly every aspect of the game.

It was a small crowd with fans wary of braving the winter weather. Yet those in attendance were treated to a show by their home team from tip-off. Mark Smith hit a three just 12 seconds into the game as a preview of things to come and to help build a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. There was then a two and a half minute scoring drought by both teams before the Tigers opened the floodgates, shooting 12-19 (63.2%) from beyond the arc and 32-52 (61.5%) overall.

Coming into the game, Missouri had been shooting 43% of their field goals and 31% deep. They had been holding opponents to even less respectable numbers though, which is why on Friday afternoon before preparing to head out, White and players explained how the Tigers defense was going to be the biggest issue in Saturday’s game.

"Missouri is one of the best defensive teams in the country; arguably the best defensive team — or playing as well defensively — as any team in our league. Execute really well, year in and year out. They run good stuff. Extremely tough and physical,” White told reporters at the time.

“They play heavily deny and like [Coach White] said they foul a lot too so we have to celebrate the fouls,” agreed Keyontae Johnson.

Florida actually was able to pick up some points this way, shooting 15-20 (75%) from the free throw line. But the charity stripe felt like little more than its name; a moment of charity and reprieve on a night the Tigers dominated in every way.

It wasn’t just the long ball though that Mizzou used to suffocate UF. The Tigers also scored 40 points in the paint thanks to four guys notching double digits.

With 13:20 to go in the game, Florida had taken advantage of the aforementioned Missouri fouls and entered the bonus. Senior Kerry Blackshear hit two free throws to pull the Gators within 11 and with hopes of mounting another comeback to mimic the 21-point deficit recovery UF used to beat Alabama last week. Zou answered with a layup.

Blackshear led the Gators (and tied Missouri’s Dru Smith) with a game high 22 points. Noah Locke and Scottie Lewis also recorded double digits with 12 and 11 points respectively. Guard Andrew Nembhard arrived in Columbia riding a monumental wave. He had tallied 25 points in the comeback win over Alabama and then followed that with a double-double performance in the win at South Carolina (21 points, 10 rebounds).

Yet on Saturday, Nembhard was held to eight points and four assists.

The Gators will now return home to face Ole Miss on Tuesday night at 7pm. It kicks off a four game stretch that is followed by a home date with No. 5 Auburn, a trip to LSU and then back to Gainesville for a showdown with No. 4 Baylor.

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