A season defined by exceeded expectations ended Tuesday night in University Park, Penn.
After beating Dayton on Sunday, Florida couldn’t carry its momentum against Penn State in its home arena, dropping the game 83-61.
Senior guards Dara Taylor and Maggie Lucas carried the Nittany Lions to an easy win over the Gators, each chipping in 22-point performances.
“Maggie Lucas, that kid’s one of the best scorers in the country,” assistant coach David Lowery said. “She plays with a sense of confidence and thinks the ball’s going to go in every time she shoots it.
“A lot of people really key in on Lucas, and having seniors like (Ariel) Edwards and Taylor, those kids step up, make plays and do the things they need to do to help their team win.”
From the start, Penn State was controlling the tempo.
Just under eight minutes into the contest, the Nittany Lions were ahead 17-4.
At halftime, Penn State was up by 11 points and it didn’t look back.
The Nittany Lions’ lethal combination of size and shooting efficiency was too much for the Gators to handle, as Penn State opened up a 28-point lead with 11:37 left in the game.
PSU’s formidable size took a backseat to its shooting prowess on Tuesday night.
The Nittany Lions shot 46.6 percent from the field and sank six shots from distance.
“I just thought they hit open shots,” Lowery said. “Their perimeter players scored all their points, basically.
“We did a pretty decent job of trying to limit their touches inside, which I didn’t really feel like they were trying to do consistently, but I feel like we didn’t do a good job of guarding the perimeter.”
Penn State’s trio of Edwards, Lucas and Taylor shredded Florida for a combined 62 points.
“Edwards had (10 points) at half. Lucas had nine. Taylor … I don’t think I’ve seen her score in a game like that consistently,” Lowery said. “You let a point guard be effective at being able to control the tempo and also be able to make shots, you’re going to have a long night.”
Although the end result was far from the Gators’ desired result, redshirt junior Kayla Lewis’s presence was the biggest thorn in the Nittany Lions’ side.
Lewis was one rebound shy of a double-double, scoring 20 points and nabbing nine boards.
“Enough can’t be said about Kayla this year,” Lowery said. “The way she ended the year and how she’s been playing leading up to the NCAA Tournament speaks volumes for her toughness and will to do whatever she can, and stay out on the floor that long to do whatever she can to help her team win.
“I thought Kayla played an exceptional ball game from start to finish.”
Although the exit from the tournament was abrupt for Florida, this season will go down in the books as a success.
Prior to the season, Florida was projected to finish tenth in the conference from the preseason coaches’ poll, and not expected to receive an invite to the big dance.
One season-ending injury and a slew of incoming and outgoing transfers later, the Gators started the season with only nine active players.
At season’s end, there were still nine. They finished fifth in the conference and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“For us to do what we did, finishing fifth (in the SEC), we still didn’t get the respect that we deserved for how hard our kids worked down the stretch,” an unsatisfied Lowery said.
“We can’t say enough for our fight.”
A radio broadcast contributed to this report.
Follow Gordon Streisand on Twitter @GordonStreisand
Kayla Lewis (22) attempts a shot during Florida’s loss to Missouri on Feb. 20 in the O’Connell Center.