Texas Southern guard PJ Henry quieted the Stephen C. O’Connell Center with a jump shot at the horn. The maroon and grey proved to be a tougher opponent than the Gators anticipated as the previously winless Tigers boasted a 10 point lead at the half.
The No. 20 Florida Gators men’s basketball team (6-2) were shown no southern hospitality by the Texas Southern Tigers (1-7) Monday, as TSU head coach Johnny Jones and his team sprinted away with a 69-54 win.
UF head coach Mike White’s squad started slow, and its lack of composure ultimately cost it the game. The Gators fell six spots on the AP Poll after falling to Oklahoma 74-67 Wednesday, and this loss leaves their ranking in question.
The game didn’t always look destined for a blowout. Florida guard Myreon Jones stole the ball and trekked down the court. The senior bagged a layup to make the reptiles rowdy six minutes into the game.
As the shot clock wound down, forward CJ Felder caught the Tigers defense off-guard with an alley-oop for the home team to increase its lead to four.
Despite the early surge, White said he sensed the team wasn’t playing like themselves.
“I was worried about how we played for sure,” he said. “We got off to a start in which we, again, were fouling early, didn’t defend the glass, didn’t block out as well as we should have, didn’t rotate out of the post defensive situations that we had.”
TSU forward Justin Hopkins responded with an emphatic dunk, where the only sound heard were the cheers from its optimistic bench. The Gators couldn’t catch a break, as forward Joirdon Karl Nicholas came back for more, slamming the ball into the net like a donut in coffee.
But Jones refused to back down. The Alabama native dunked and swung from the hoop to trim TSU’s lead to two points. The orange and blue crowd erupted and, per usual, center Jason Jitoboh danced ceremoniously, shuffling around the court.
The 3-point line was UF’s biggest enemy. The Gators shot a faulty two-for-11 at the half. This made the Tigers happy, as they strolled into the locker room claiming a 10 point lead — 20 minutes from their first win of the season.
“This is not who this team is, this is not who this program is. We were thoroughly out-played, out-coached, out-everything,” White said.
Florida applied pressure as the scoreboard lit a fire under the team. Forward Anthony Duruji sliced TSU’s lead with an assertive dunk early in the final frame.
Later in the second half, an evidently frustrated Colin Castleton fought for the bucket in the paint and emerged successfully to further diminish the deficit to 48-35, TSU. Despite that success, the 6-foot-11 senior totaled only 12 points and finished five-for-12 from the field.
Castleton said the Gators have to do a better job moving forward.
“We didn’t play as hard as we should have and we have to do a better job,” he said. “I let the team down, I let myself down.
With 10 minutes remaining in the final frame, Texas Southern slowed its pace. Gators fans headed toward the exit — the silence was deafening.
A half-court steal from guard Jordan Gilliam sealed the game, leaving UF’s Tyree Appleby flustered as he threw his head back in frustration with under nine minutes to go.
The Tigers made their living off the backboards, claiming 46 rebounds to suffocate the orange and blue and stifle any half-hearted comeback.
Even a last-minute, all-out effort wasn’t enough to put Florida back on top, and the Gators found themselves down 15 at the final buzzer.
White said UF struggled just as much defensively as it did offensively.
“We were playing harder when we were chasing the ball…than we were closing out,” he said.
The Gators are back in action in the O’Dome Wednesday versus the North Florida Ospreys. Tip off is set for 7 p.m. and the game can be streamed on SEC Network.
Karina Wilson is a third-year student at the University of Florida within the College of Journalism and Communications with a specialization in sports and media. She aims to produce engaging, accurate and current content for all types of sports fans. Currently, Karina is The Alligator's men’s basketball beat writer.