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Monday, March 04, 2024

Sooners take down No. 14 Florida for Gators’ first loss

Oklahoma's hostile crowd and starters give the Gators fits

Florida's Tyree Appleby pictured during a Nov. 14 game against Florida State
Florida's Tyree Appleby pictured during a Nov. 14 game against Florida State

Florida guard Tyree Appleby brought the ball up the floor with 32 seconds remaining, Florida trailing by five points. 

The senior targeted forward Colin Castleton down low, but instead he committed the Gators’ 16th and final turnover of the night. 

Oklahoma’s Jalen Hill iced the game with two final free throws, ending the No. 14 Gators’ six game win streak. 

Florida (6-1) fell back to Earth Wednesday, losing for the first time this season to the Sooners (7-1) 74-67 in Norman, Oklahoma. 

Florida fell asleep at the wheel from the moment the opening tip was tossed up. 

Five Gators’ turnovers preceded their first point of the game. Florida ended up surrendering the rock seven times through the first seven minutes, and 10 times in the first half. 

“They (Oklahoma) definitely threw the first few punches of the game,” Florida head coach Mike White said. 

Guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. provided the spark Florida needed. After making his first start of the season against Troy, Fleming returned to his sixth man role. 

“We got a little out of character early on,” Fleming said. 

The graduate transfer scored Florida’s first two points of the night on the free throw line. With the Gators trailing 9-2, forward Anthony Duruji capitalized on a Fleming steal on the ensuing Oklahoma inbounds pass. Duruji was all alone under the rim and rocked it with a dunk. The Gators comeback was on. 

The Sooners rattled off five points in 24 seconds to extend their lead to 10. Florida responded with an 8-0 run, six points coming from Fleming. 

The scoreboard read 14-12 with 10:47 remaining until the half. That remaining time became a back and forth affair. 

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Florida went the duration of the opening 20 minutes without a 3-pointer. The Gators shot 0-9 from behind the arc. The shooting struggles followed a lights-out performance Sunday, when Florida hit 13 threes. Gators guard Brandon McKissic eventually ended the drought early in the second half. 

With time dwindling down towards halftime and Oklahoma center Ethan Chargois in foul trouble, Sooners guard Umoja Gibson became the Oklahoma offense. The senior scored eight straight points for the Sooners between 5:24 and 3:52. Gibson and forward Tanner Groves led Oklahoma with 10 points each in the first half. 

The Gators clawed all the way back to take their first lead with 1:02 remaining but couldn’t hold on before the teams headed to the locker rooms. Fleming led Florida with 14 points, but Oklahoma carried a narrow 37-36 advantage into the second half. 

In an opening period lacking fireworks, Appleby ended up on the highlight reel. The Arkansas native got fancy with a long lob to forward CJ Felder, who slammed it home with ease. 

Déjà vu was on the verge of setting in when the final 20 minutes got underway. Oklahoma quickly extended its lead to 42-36. The aforementioned McKissic triple put an end to the Sooners’ run and kept Florida right in the thick of things. 

The Missouri-Kansas City transfer would score four of UF’s next six points, a positive sign for the graduate student as he continues to battle a hamstring injury suffered during the Gators’ dramatic win over Ohio State

Florida guard Myreon Jones got in on the scoring with 14:42 to play. He converted a layup before knocking down a 3-pointer four possessions later. The Penn State transfer’s first three of the game knotted the game at 50. 

The Sooners caught fire and fed off of the crowd inside the Lloyd Noble Center. 

It was a balanced attack from Oklahoma offensively, with all five of its starters contributing to the Sooners’ next 17 points. Hill made the statement play of the spurt with an athletic dunk. The junior carved through the Florida defense and took flight from just a step into the lane. The jam put the Sooners ahead 65-56 and forced a Gators timeout. 

The Gators were not going away. Despite not making a field goal for about eight minutes, Florida remained resilient. Oklahoma was up 10, tying its largest lead of the game, before Appleby hit two 3-pointers, fueling an 8-0 Gators’ run in just 1:32. 

Hill put a stop to the Florida momentum, finishing through contact for a 3-point-play extending Oklahoma’s lead to 72-67. The game was still in reach for Florida as Appleby controlled the ball, but his turnover was the final piece of Oklahoma’s upset. 

Only four Florida 3-pointers fell through the net, but this didn’t stop the Gators from shooting, as they jacked up 24 attempts from behind the arc. 

“It was definitely an off night shooting. I thought we missed some open ones,” White said. “They’ve got a couple of frontcourt guys that can really move laterally. That stops some of our guard penetration stuff. Sometimes it can just throw you off rhythm.” 

The Gators have five days to find their lost rhythm before getting back in front of their home crowd. Florida hosts Texas Southern next Monday at 6 p.m. inside the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. 

Contact Joseph Henry at Follow him on Twitter @Josephhenry2424.

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Joseph Henry

Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper. 

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