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Sunday, January 23, 2022

You know this feeling, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

The familiar NIT is knocking — pretty much banging down the door actually — after UF could not score down the stretch once again in a 64-60 loss to Vanderbilt.

Tuesday showed why the Georgia game Saturday was so important. It showed why the loss at South Carolina is reason for concern. It showed how past indiscretions — you know, like a home loss to South Alabama — can come back to haunt you in March.

Each of those losses is excusable by itself. Compounding those errors shrinks the margin for error.

Florida all but clinched a three-game losing streak to end the regular season, putting even more pressure on UF in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

I see a more troubling pattern developing: struggling to score down the stretch.

The Gators went without a field goal for the final 9:53 Tuesday. UF didn’t have a point in the final 1:39 against Georgia.  Florida finished the Auburn game with no field goals in the last 8:24. South Carolina held UF to one field goal in six minutes late in the game. Mississippi State cut a 12-point deficit with 2:38 left to four in the final 30 seconds. Florida scored five points in the final 5:14 against Kentucky.

The remarkable thing is the ability of Florida’s defense to keep the team in games. The Gators shot 27 percent in the second half — and had a wide-open three-pointer to win the game.

“I thought we got phenomenal shots,” Donovan said. “We executed our offense very, very well. The result of the ball going in the basket was not great.”

The problem is the poor shooting continues to be a trend. Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker made a combined 3 of 24 shots. That’s what happens when a lack of depth forces those two to play 33 minutes a night. 

Donovan complimented Boynton and Walker on Tuesday for their ability to be resilient and overcome poor offensive nights.

That is a great characteristic for a basketball player to have, but at some point, you have to stop being a liability on the offensive side.

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Take away the Georgia game and Boynton is making 25 percent of his shots from behind the three-point line.

It’s not a slump when you’re 30 games into the season. It’s just a terrible year.

The thing that had been most impressive about Florida — its ability to win a lot of different ways — also means the team doesn’t have one go-to guy. The Gators can’t handle too many key parts having a bad game.

 “Good teams really, really make winning plays,” Donovan said. “When I’m saying winning plays, it’s like the plays where it’s just reaction plays — where the ball goes up and they just react with it.

“They find a way to come up with the loose basketball and throw it out to the three-point line. Our guys, especially our front court guys, have to react a little bit better to that. That is probably a great challenge.”

It’s also the difference between rejoining an old friend at the dance and being stuck looking in from the window.

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