After channeling his inner Vince Lombardi, coach Mike White inspired his team to a quick 7-0 run out of the locker room, tying the game at 39, forcing Alabama into an early timeout.
Then, guard Scottie Lewis picked up his fourth foul.
Without their Jersey-born talisman, the Gators struggled and were ultimately overwhelmed by the size and physicality of the Crimson Tide, losing 86-71 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Tuesday night.
Florida scored the game’s first five points off a three from junior guard Noah Locke and a Lewis jumper, but Bama equalized quickly and the two teams were even through the first 10 minutes.
Locke hit three shots from the perimeter in the early-going, much-improved from his 0-5 outing last time out against LSU. He also found some success in the mid-range, knocking down a jumper to pull the Gators within one at the under-four timeout.
However, Bama embarked on a 9-2 run to close the half and went into the locker room leading 39-31.
Florida seemed to have found its offensive mojo after shooting just 37% in the first half. A mid-range jumper and three-ball from forward Anthony Duruji and I’m bucket from forward Colin Castleton knotted the game up at 39, which seemed to set up a photo finish in Tuscaloosa.
However, an undersized Gator team had no answer for Alabama at the summit. The Crimson Tide scored 46 points in the paint, outmuscling Florida on the boards and dominating UF in transition.
“I thought they played harder than us,” White said. “They were good on the offensive glass, they were better at changing ends — both offensively and defensively. Thought they were tougher than us.”
Alabama showed off its arsenal of offensive weapons Tuesday night, as five players finished in double-figures and the team demonstrated strong balance down low and from beyond the arc.
“They do a great job with spacing,” White said about his opposition. “They really share it. They have a couple guys who can post it. They’re a really good driving team.”
An and-one conversation with a subsequent layup from Bama forward Felix Rojas put UF in the danger zone, down 16 with 12 minutes to go. Back-to-back threes from guard Tyree Appleby and guard Tre Mann cut the deficit to 12, but Alabama’s assault on the rim kept Florida at bay.
A bright spot for Florida was the performances of Cleveland State transfer Appleby, who scored 16 points on 6-12 from the field, including two treys and a perfect 4-4 from the line.
Alabama extended its lead to as high as 21 before ultimately coasting to a 15-point victory and a continued undefeated record in SEC play.
Lewis’ limitations due to foul trouble were a massive factor in Florida’s first conference loss, as Alabama ignited a 20-4 run immediately after the sophomore left the floor with four fouls.
“He’s a big energy guy for us,” White said regarding Lewis’ foul trouble. “But we have to be more disciplined. Fouling, for us, has been our biggest defensive deficiency by far this year.”
Florida’s dreams of a top-25 bid will have to wait for another week, as the Gators turned in their worst defensive showing this season, allowing 47 points and 47 percent shooting in the second half.
UF will return to the O’Connell Center Saturday to take on a Kentucky team looking to shine again with blue-blooded luster. Tip-off is at 5 p.m. and will stream on the SEC Network.
Contact Declan Walsh at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @declanaw