Missouri forward Jeremiah Tilmon slowly trotted back to the Tigers’ bench after earning his fifth foul. The echoes of the Rowdy Reptiles rang behind him.
“Left, right, left, right, left, right.”
As he reached his seat, he knew what was coming. It happens every time an opposing player fouls out of a game at the O’Connell Center. The student section finishes with the ultimate closing move, a metaphorical last jab to the player that can’t play in the game anymore.
Tilmon clearly didn’t like that. He was already frustrated from being forced out of the game. So he did something that most players wouldn’t dare to do.
He stuck up his middle finger at the student section. He flipped them the bird. He flicked them off. The student section made sure his actions were known as a loud boo came from all over the arena.
His actions didn’t really affect the game, but they defined two reasons why the Florida men’s basketball team defeated Missouri 64-60 on Saturday at home: Mizzou’s foul trouble and Florida’s ability to get to the free throw line.
Tilmon picked up three fouls in the second half, including one away from the ball for his fifth foul. He and fellow starter guard Xavier Pinson fouled out, leaving Missouri to depend on its backups.
Missouri also picked up seven fouls in the first five minutes of the second frame, meaning that every time Florida got fouled after that, it would shoot from the charity stripe.
“We’ve been practicing our free throws,” forward Keyontae Johnson said. “We was trying to draw fouls and get their big man fouled out, as we did.”
The Gators were sloppy in the first half. They suffered from a mix of poor shot selection and a failure to value the ball.
Florida shot just 7 of 23 from the field in the first 20 minutes. Guard KeVaughn Allen shot the ball five times in the frame and didn’t make a single field goal, while guard Noah Locke shot just once. A few of those attempts came off deep looks where Allen didn’t have his feet set before chucking one up.
UF’s offense was anchored by Johnson and forward Isaiah Stokes, each with six points. Stokes took the most shots in the first half, going 3 of 7.
The Gators also turned the ball over seven times. Guards Andrew Nembhard and Jalen Hudson had two apiece, making mistakes such as throwing the ball across the court, which easily got intercepted by the Missouri defense.
But Florida’s defense bailed it out. The Tigers managed just two points off fastbreaks, limiting the impact of those turnovers.
Missouri still outplayed the Gators on offense, taking a 33-24 lead into halftime.
“For me, I was slacking on defense and giving up a lot of buckets,” Johnson said of his first-half performance. “In the second half, I was trying to make up for it and make all the big stops to help my teammates.”
Everything changed in the second half. Florida became much more aggressive, attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line.
It helped that Florida was in the bonus after five minutes of play. It took advantage, taking 19 shots from the line, a season-high 30 free-throw attempts overall.
The foul trouble forced Mizzou to play it safe, which allowed UF to go on runs and get back into the game.
“It was a point of emphasis coming into this one,” coach Mike White said. “We know how good (Missouri is) defensively...the game was played very physical by both teams.”
The biggest difference maker in the second half was Allen. The senior guard finished with 17 points, 14 of which came in the final 20 minutes. He went 4 of 5 from the field, 6 for 6 from the free-throw line, and tabbed an assist in the final period.
Johnson and Hudson also finished the game in double digits, scoring 13 points and 11 points, respectively.
Stokes played for 18 minutes, more than starter Kevarrius Hayes (16 minutes) and his typical backup, Dontay Bassett (six minutes). Stokes notched two assists and a rebound.
“(White’s) been telling me year round, all the time about my potential,” Stokes said. “It was my decision if I’m going to do it or not. I finally put my body into it.”
Follow Jake Dreilinger on Twitter @DreilingerJake and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior guard KeVaughn Allen scored 17 points in the Gators 64-60 win over Missouri on Saturday.